Public health protects everyone, every day
By Charlie Hunt, Director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, Olathe, Kansas
This week is all about giving thanks. On Monday, Nov. 20, Public Health Thank You Day, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment recognized and thanked public health workers for being the cornerstone of community well-being and serving as guardians of the public's health.
You may know us for the work we did during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is a myriad of other important, often unseen, efforts to ensure the health and well-being of Johnson County residents. From our Organizational Development and Business Operations staff that keep things going to the community-facing staff that provide programs and services designed to keep people healthy - every day, Johnson County’s dedicated public health professionals strive to create conditions so everyone in the community has an equitable opportunity to live their healthiest life.
Here’s how it’s done:
Disease Prevention and Control
One of the primary functions of a local health department is disease prevention and control. We work tirelessly to detect and respond to emerging health threats, from infectious diseases like flu outbreaks to chronic conditions like diabetes. This proactive approach not only safeguards individual health but also prevents the spread of diseases within our community, ultimately reducing the burden on healthcare systems.
Health Education and Promotion
Public health departments play a significant role in educating the community about healthy lifestyles, proper nutrition, and the importance of vaccination. Through health campaigns, we empower individuals to make informed choices that lead to healthier lives. By offering resources and support for smoking cessation, healthy eating, and exercise, we are not only enhancing individual well-being but also reducing the prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases.
As population health challenges evolve and new risks to the population’s health emerge, Johnson County’s public health staff work to ensure that public health infrastructures are adequate, robust and dynamic enough to meet the needs of our residents.
Clinical and Preventive Health Services
We provide health services focused primarily on prevention, such as immunizations, TB testing, prenatal services, reproductive health and sexually transmitted infections screening and treatment. Our Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program provides nutritious foods, information on healthy eating, and referrals to community resources for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and post-partum women and children up to five years of age who have a nutritional risk.
Public health extends beyond personal habits and encompasses environmental well-being. Local health departments are responsible for air quality compliance, regulating trash and recycling haulers and facilities, pool and septic system safety, collection of household hazardous waste and educating the public on environmental health issues. By monitoring and regulating these critical aspects of our environment, we protect our community from a wide range of health hazards.
Child Care Licensing
We inspect child care facilities, providers and schools to ensure the safety of our youngest and most vulnerable residents. State-approved child care provider classes are offered on an ongoing basis. Investigation of all child care facility and provider complaints and unlicensed child care are conducted in collaboration with the DA’s Office.
Public Health Emergency Preparedness
In times of crisis, whether it's a chemical spill, a disease outbreak, or a public health emergency, health departments play a leading role in emergency preparedness. We plan and coordinate responses to these situations with community partners, ensuring the safety of everyone in the community. Through our efforts, we mitigate the impact of emergencies and facilitate a swift return to normalcy.
We recognize that not all community members have equitable access to healthcare and health information. We work to bridge these gaps by implementing programs that address disparities in health outcomes, with a focus on vulnerable populations. Health equity ensures that all residents have a fair chance at a healthy life. Assisting with health insurance and Medicaid enrollment is one way JCDHE staff is helping Johnson County residents achieve optimal health.
Policy Development and Support
We analyze and interpret the impact of policies and collaborate with partners in the community to shape policies to help ensure they are evidence-based to support and protect public health and the environment. Whether it's advocating for smoke-free environments, protecting regulations that assure healthy and safe childcare environments or securing adequate resources to support public health programs and services, we are at the forefront of public health policy initiatives.
Surveillance and Data Analysis
Effective public health relies on accurate data and surveillance. Our epidemiologists collect and analyze data on various health indicators, which helps us identify trends and areas of concern. This information guides our efforts in resource allocation, program development and public health interventions.
Medical Examiner’s Office
The Medical Examiner’s Office (MEO) works to determine the cause and manner of death for any individual who dies within Johnson County boundaries including those unattended by a physician, violent or non-natural deaths and deaths of minors (children under 18) with no significant medical history. This work is accomplished by conducting on-scene death investigations and performing autopsies and medical record reviews. The MEO serves the living by working on behalf of the deceased to obtain the truth and circumstances of their death.
Office of the Medical Director for Emergency Medical Services
The Office of the Medical Director (OMD) is responsible for overseeing all clinical aspects of the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) System including patient care protocols, credentialing programs, performance improvement activities, and education. The OMD also provides medical oversight for the 911 Emergency Communications Center and local law enforcement and school naloxone programs.
Community Engagement and Partnerships
Engaging with the community is at the heart of our work. We seek input and feedback from residents through a Community Health Assessment, collaborate with community organizations, and involve the public in decision-making processes. This inclusive approach ensures that our efforts are aligned with the needs and preferences of our community. Partnerships play a large role in the enhancement of the health of our residents. No one organization can do this alone, it takes working together to tackle the health issues facing our community.
Public health is not merely a field of study; it is a commitment to the betterment of our community's health, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity for a longer, healthier life. Take a moment this week to thank the public health workers in your life for the work they do to protect everyone, every day.
Learn more about JCDHE’s plan to Move Health Forward in Johnson County.