Superior Health Professionals of Heroic Proportions

They support the needs of seven western Kentucky counties. They provide pregnancy tests, nutrition counseling, breastfeeding counseling, and prenatal information. They dispense thousands of immunizations each year. They sponsor programs like Healthy Start, smoking cessation, family planning, abstinence education, cancer screenings, chronic disease education, and health fairs. They diagnose and investigate health problems and hazards in scores of communities.
 
They link people to needed personal health services, and inform, educate, and empower people about health issues. Is this a local super power? Well, in many ways, yes. They’re the super people who serve the Purchase District Health Department.
 
With administrative offices in both Paducah and Mayfield, this cadre of community health clinicians is SUPERvised by Public Health Director Charlie Ross. “I took the job in 1999 after having spent 25 years in various capacities with the Purchase Area Development District,” says Charlie. “As director, my basic responsibility is to serve as the chief administrative officer for the department, executing policies to safeguard the health of the community.”
 
And you thought it was hard to get your seven-year-old to take his vitamins? What if you had to try and make sure babies are healthy, kids are getting immunized, the elderly are eating right, the restaurants are clean, the sewage is being disposed of properly, teens aren’t smoking, and there’s peace on earth. OK, that may be a stretch.
 
But just look at the stats. The PDHD employs or contracts with more than 200 people in the seven-county district which includes Ballard, Calloway, Carlisle, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, and McCracken in a variety of disciplines including RNs, ARNs, LPNs, PTs, STs, OTs, health environmentalists, registered dietitians, health educators, epidemiologists, home health aides, health clerks, human resources managers, financial professionals, and physicians along with numerous other para-healthcare providers. Whew! No wonder Charlie’s beard is getting a little gray.
 
And to top it off, like many municipal programs in our country, he’s trying to do more with less. “One of the biggest challenges right now is declining revenues from Medicaid and other sources while expenses of operation like vaccines, liability insurance, employee health insurance, gas, and many other commodities are rising in price,” he admits. In addition, Kentucky’s relative public health status continues to be abysmal, ranking at or near the top of numerous indicators of poor health—heart disease, cancers of several varieties, diabetes, lack of physical activity, and the list goes on. “Doing more with less is our mantra of the moment,” Charlie adds. Yet, the PDHD forges ahead with MANY missions of good health in their attempt to create healthier communities. “We have a host of programs going on in all our counties with a focus on promoting greater public health such as smoking cessation, promoting changes in diet and exercise especially among youth, looking for more opportunities for physical activities like parks and walking/ biking paths and so on.”
 
However, when you look at the list of basic programs the PDHD has undertaken for as long as it’s been in operation, the admonition to the populace to be more healthy is like icing the cake. The ingredients of this work-horse agency include health services which are targeted to everyone in our communities from expectant mothers to pre-schoolers to adolescents to senior citizens. “There are no elements of society that our agency doesn’t have a relationship with in terms of health,” Charlie explains. Add to that a HOST of special programs and projects targeted to educate and enhance the health of western Kentuckians. “One of our primary accomplishments has been to steadily increase services, particularly preventive clinical services while reducing or maintaining staffing levels; in other words doing more with less,” Charlie reiterates. “We’ve done this through improved technology, but mostly through the dedication and hard work of our nurses, clerks, and the other team members that serve our constituents.”
 
Here are just a few examples:
 
The KIDS  Now program—made possible by tobacco settlement funds appropriated by the General Assembly, including Healthy
Start and folic acid for women of child-bearing age. Making folic acid (otherwise known as Vitamin B-6) available is greatly reducing the prevalence of neural tube defects among newborns.
 
HANDS is a home visiting program for first-time parents. This program has received national recognition as a model for early childhood growth and development particularly in the dramatic decrease in reported child abuse and neglect.
 
The agency also has programs associated with oral health services, diabetes, and lead detection/prevention and numerous coalition efforts focusing on cancer, obesity, and many other health concerns. The group has also supported a partnership with several agencies, most notably the Purchase Area Health Education Center at Murray State to sponsor the West Kentucky Children’s Health Coalition. The work of this group has resulted in the treatment of literally thousands of children with fluoride varnish, sealants, health education and restorative care for oral health care needs.
 
A more recent partnership, involving local hospitals, UK Extension offices and the Marshall County Health Department is a special education/community awareness event called Colossal Colon. Scheduled for February 2006, the event, to be held at the Kentucky Oaks Mall, will feature a giant (40 foot) mock-up display of the human colon. The coalition hopes to attract local schools to educate children while “getting the community’s attention” about the importance of early screening intervention.

As the Health Department struggles to make our budget workable,  like many other municipal entities,  it is
only with the help of the financial professionals at Paducah Bank that we can truly continue to meet the public health needs of our communities in a financially responsible manner.
— CHARLIE  ROSS,  PUBLIC  HEALTH  DIRECTOR

The PDHD must also be alert to the ever-possible world of trauma and tragedy. “Some of the biggest changes in the past six years in our organization were results of the 9/11 attacks. We have put much more emphasis on emergency/bioterrorism preparedness, working with hospitals and other emergency service partners in preparing for natural and/or man-made disaster scenarios,” Charlie adds. In response to those concerns, there is now an emergency radio network housed in the health department linked to area hospitals and other emergency agencies. The group is also installing satellite phone/radios in the same locations. The recent hurricanes in the Gulf proved how valuable SAT phones are when other systems are overwhelmed or destroyed.
 
And aging is a factor for all of us including the PDHD. Most of the health department facilities are more than 50 years old. Consequently, the need for technological and physical renovation and improvement is of major concern as well, along with the onslaught of a brain drain.
 
“What most people aren’t aware of is the transition of knowl- edge,” Charlie explains. “Due to a retirement incentive created by the legislature, finding and recruiting good people and encouraging the growth of a new generation of public health leaders is a big challenge.”
 
And those are big shoes to fill. When you look at the exhaustive list of programs, services, projects, and partnerships that the PDHD can proudly place on its organizational resume, it’s apparent that only conscientious, committed, caring professionals need apply.