BLOG: A Day (or two) in the Life of a Health Department
BLOG: My name is Tamalyn Roebuck and I was recently hired as the Communications Specialist for the North Central Health District (NCHD). The NCHD monitors and protects the health and well-being of the citizens in our 13 counties that covers our district. Each county has a health department that provides many services to the residents of their community. Since my primary job responsibility is to promote the services offered by public health, I figured I should spend some time getting to know exactly what Public Health is and how a health department operates.
I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to spend a couple days shadowing at one of our health departments, the Houston County Health Department (HCHD) in Warner Robins, GA. Between Tuesday, September 20 and Wednesday, September 21, I was able to see what a typical day looks like at the HCHD and learn more about some of the services that are provided. I was told that I couldn't see everything the health department does in just one day... and boy, were they right!
Once I arrived to the health department on Tuesday, I met nurse Faye Mencer and was told to follow her to Northside High School, where she comes once a week to teach a program that works with pregnant and parenting teens in Houston County. On the day I was there, the teens learned about the importance of safety for their child, including how to child proof their homes. The teens who were still pregnant learned about pain management during childbirth. Mencer helps teach this class in addition to her other duties at the health department, where she serves as the lead for the Houston County Tuberculosis Program.
After leaving Northside High School, I met up with Chris Sikes, County Nurse Manager and a handful of other health department employees at the Warner Robins Bus Shop for the Houston County Board of Education (HCBOE). At the Bus Shop, Sikes and her employees were set up to give any interested HCBOE transportation employees their Flu, Hepatitis B, and Pneumonia vaccines. Sikes and her employees set up to give the vaccines in a very quick and efficient manner; after filling out a little paperwork, those individuals that took advantage of the vaccines could be vaccinated in a matter of seconds. It was apparent that these folks know what they are doing. If employees wanted their flu vaccine, they had the option of either getting a traditional flu shot or a flu mist.
Side note: The mist is a great alternative for those of us that have a phobia of needles! However, if you're interested in using the mist option, you should be aware that you can't have any long-term health problems such as, heart disease, lung disease, asthma, diabetes, seizures, or be pregnant, and it's only approved for people who are between the ages of 2 and 50 years old.
When we got back to the health department, I was given a tour, met many staff members, and learned more about the variety of the services that the Health Department offers. Some of these services include: Immunizations, Child Health Services, Family Planning, STD tests and counseling, Breast Test and More, Tuberculosis Related Services, Environmental Health Services, Travel Clinic, etc.
Always on the go, Sikes and her staff set up again to administer vaccinations at the HCBOE Crossroads Alternative Center. I was amazed that these HCHD employees did so much in a day! Any employees within the Houston County School System had the opportunity to come by and receive their flu shot, Hepatitis B and/or Pneumonia vaccines. In the time I was there, around 40 people came in to receive their vaccines. Each one of the vaccines given that day represented one person who wasn't going to get sick in that community. But it didn't stop there because the next day they would be going to a retirement home to give vaccines.
The next day, I spent the day shadowing the Environmental Health programs that the health department offers. The programs that Environmental Health is responsible for includes food service inspections, the land use program which includes permitting and inspecting individual on-site sewage systems, public swimming pool inspections and the water program as it relates to indivdual drinking water wells.
When I arrived at the health department, I met Environmental Health Specialist, Karen Sanders. She was gracious enough to show me a typical morning from her perspective. She primarily deals with the food service. Her duties include routine inspections of local restaurants, informal follow-ups on low-scoring eateries, and fielding complaints from disgruntled customers. She also conducts training sessions for restaurants who are concerned with proper inspection procedures; her primary concern in doing inspections is to educate the restaurant on how to provide a healthy environment for staff and customers. These role play sessions are without charge, and she takes pride in conducting these training exercises.
In Houston County alone, there are 347 permitted food establishments, 47 schools and 53 tourist accommodations that all have to be inspected by the health department. The 347 permitted food establishments have at least two inspections a year, but strive for four and these are unannounced. Needless to say, the food inspectors stay busy! On a side note, I also learned that each of the 120+ food vendors at the Georgia National Fair have to be inspected before the start of the fair, as well. The food vendors are then inspected daily until the close of the fair, which are at least 75 per day.
The day started off first with a visit to a restaurant after the health department had received a complaint. We had to go to the restaurant where the complaint was made to look further into the situation. Next was a routine food inspection at a fast food restaurant. It was very interesting to see how a restaurant gets graded on their inspection based on certain factors. Some of the things I saw that inspectors check for include: compliance in food handling, food temperatures, personal hygiene and vermin control.
Karen's enthusiasm for her job was infectious, and her zeal affected me. Now when I go into any restaurant or food establisment and see the health score posted somewhere, I will pay close attention and fully understand what it all means. If you're also interested in seeing the results of inspections at restaurants in Houston County go to http://ga.state.gegov.com/georgia/search.cfm?county=Houton.
After spending the morning learning about food inspections, I met with Environmental Health County Manager, Christine Buffington and Environmental Health Specialist, Kyle Cotton to observe a septic tank installation. I had no idea that the HCHD was involved with this. However, I was a great sport and tagged along for the ride. In fact, this wasn't as bad as I was expecting. Our first call of the afternoon was a septic tank installation for a private homeowner. Cotton was there to insure the proper installation of the tank and absorption field. Even though this service is mandatory for any new homes or businesses, the health department offers on-site septic tank inspections as part of their Land Use (On-Site Sewage) program in Environmental Health. This service is required when public sewage is not available to a home or business and is only part of the Environmental Health Land Use Program.
At the end of the day, I was able to see the scope of the HCHD Rabies Control program. This program is responsible for investigating any cases of animals biting people. The rabies program is responsible for ensuring that rabies does not get into the human population. Environmental Health also investigates cases of domestic animal encounters with wild animals and with each other. Generally, these reports are filed by hospitals, and it is the responsibility of this department to investigate if the animal has rabies. While I was there, the health department was notified after a child in the area claimed to have been bitten by the neighbor's dog. Usually, pets are inspected visually for signs of rabies (foaming at the mouth, lethargy, and erratic behavior). Keep in mind that these routine calls are done in the privacy of one's home and the animals are not taken from the owner. Fortunately, the dog showed none of the signs of rabies! However, if you notice an animal with these signs, please contact a local Animal Control program.
I would like to thank the staff of HCHD, especially Chris Sikes and Christine Buffington, for allowing me the opportunity to shadow at the Houston County Health Department. I am impressed with the passion you and the staff put into your jobs. We are truly fortunate to have such dedicated individuals working to ensure our health and safety!
For more information about the many services provided at the health department, please call their office at 478-218-2000 or visit www.northcentralhealthdistrict.com/houston for additional information.
Heather Holloway, RN, gives a HCBOE employee their flu vaccine.
Chris Sikes, County Nurse Manager, prepares to give a HCBOE employee their flu shot.
Kyle Cotton, Environmental Health Specialist, observes a septic tank installation.