The Anson County Health Department kicked off National Public Health Week with a hot dog lunch and a breakdown of its top challenges and goals.
Staff had the hot dog lunch on April 3, and a staff member drew chalk art representing the top health issues the county faces as identified through the 2016 Community Health Assessment: high rates of hypertension, sexually-transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, and childhood obesity.
One of the nurses drew the chalk art about those problems and possible solutions, such as long-term contraception to prevent teen pregnancy, Dr. Fred Thompson, director of the health department, said.
“All health departments, not just in North Carolina, stop and recognize staff for the work they’re doing and try to bring the work of local health departments to the attention of the community,” Thompson said. “We’re so small that sometimes you sort of get lost in the shuffle. We had a good day and I think we’ll have a good week.”
Thompson said he wants the department to work on fixing the issues the population faces, but not to lose sight of its successes, including a high child immunization rate.
He said some people may not realize the extent of services his department offers.
“I think public health, for the most part, a lot of it is not obvious until there’s a problem,” Thompson said. “I think if you’re not in the market for a septic tank permit, you wouldn’t get any help with the permitting process, etc. I think when you see a severe salmonella outbreak, for example, at a local restaurant, you ask about health inspections. If you see young children dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, you wonder how did that happen, who’s inspecting that, etc.
“And I think people generally realize the health department provides immunizations, like when Ebola was happening last year, there was a lot of attention on public health,” he continued. “The Zika virus is ongoing, people generally are aware of the WIC program for mothers and small children, and probably have some awareness if you have a communicable disease problem that the health department will be involved. When there was rabies a few weeks ago, the health department was involved.”
Some health issues can be more complex than others, and require partnerships with community organizations to more effectively combat the problems. While teen pregnancy is a problem in Anson, Thompson said the term — and statistics — aren’t perfect.
“We see the teen pregnancy rate, but if you’re married at 18 and have a child and it’s a planned event, it’s fine,” Thompson said. “But we’re really trying to focus on bringing down unwanted teen pregnancies. These are difficult issues, so 19 people at the health department need to work with the Partnership (for Children), the school system and other partners. To engage those people, we need to educate on what those problems are. That’s why I was lobbying so hard to get a public health educator position restored to the health department this year.”
Thompson asked the commissioners during their March meeting to restore the position. If the county doesn’t fund it in next year’s budget, he will pursue other options, he said.
“It comes down to where does that need fit with all the other unmet needs, and they can’t fund every unmet need, I understand that,” he said. “But as the health director, I have to figure out a way to get a public health educator in the health department.”
Thompson’s 19 staff members work in the WIC programs, environmental health and more.
“We’re one of the smallest health departments in the state, but do provide all of the mandated core public health services,” he said, adding that those services include everything from immunizations to food and lodging location inspections.
The heath department will focus on its top priorities identified in the 2016 Community Health Assessment with Carolinas HealthCare System and report on its progress in the annual State of the County Health Report.
The department will continue to celebrate National Public Health Week with other events, including a raffle for employees with items donated by community businesses.
Reach reporter Imari Scarbrough at 704-994-5471 and follow her on Twitter @ImariScarbrough.