How Your Local Health Department Helps Keep You Safe and Healthy

What does my local health department do?

Throughout the past year, many of us have heard a lot from the health departments. Guidelines, recommendations, and restrictions to try and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Before the start of the pandemic, you may not have heard much about or from the health department; you may be asking what they do for the community, and what is the point of having a health department? If you are asking yourself these questions, you are in luck! I am here to tell you about our local health department in Marion County, helping you understand more about what our local health department helps with.

Fruit laid out in boxes at American Structurepoint

I spoke with Megan Rowe, who is the cardiovascular program manager working in the chronic disease section of the Marion County Health Department. Typically, Megan’s role is adapted to the prevention of heart disease in community outreach and policy changes all in Marion County. This means Megan works with businesses all over the city to help provide education on how to prevent heart disease, and she even works with the state to try and make sure there are certain rules to protect the health of those in our community! Due to current Covid-19 safety protocols, her role has been impacted by going almost completely virtual.  Since health fairs and public health self-assessments are on hold (at least for now) so she is missing out on communication and interactions with the community directly right now, but that does not mean her work has stopped!

 Megan says, “you know you need the health department when you don’t need it.” She explains further by saying, “even though it doesn’t look like a lot is happening, there is still a lot going on. If you are not seeing any public health outbreaks, water contamination issues, or sanitation issues then everything [the health department] is working properly. If in a community you see hepatitis outbreaks and salmonella issues, that is when you know there needs to be education and training.”

Boy eating celery

              The health department is working hard to change how we look at not only health, but the health department as well. Changing the scope on how public health is looked at, most people just think vaccines, etc., when the first goal of the health department are things like clean water, clean air, etc., but now the local health departments have other priorities as well, things we have not mastered yet. A lot of people do not realize how much work the local health departments do when it comes to environmental health. Things like water sampling, quality control, working with people at universities and even at state and federal levels to try and show how pollution impacts water. Local health departments even take on projects to work on health equality for all, they work on promotion and outreach to provide things like vaccines to everyone, and work to have a clinical understanding how people can stay safe, they do everything, from the top down to the groundwork.

              Each local health department is different in its own way; different health departments deal with different issues and populations, as well as different amounts of funding and resources to work with. Marion County Health Department is different and unique as it is the largest health department in the state with over 800 staff members. To put this into perspective, Megan informed us that some county health departments have 3 employees or less and they still must do the same scope of work (normally there is a lower population, but it would be the amount of work to scale). Marion County is also an unincorporated- private public entity- under the corporation of health and hospital -while some are a direct entity. This means Marion County’s health department is technically a type of business that does not aim to make money (like a grocery store for example), it is a nonprofit organization that has services available to everyone.

Today’s blog is written by Jump IN volunteer and guest blogger, Madison Crisler. Madison just graduated from IUPUI with a degree in Fitness Management and Personal Training. She has been coaching small group fitness classes as well as 1 on 1 training people for almost 4 years.