Health Check with Dwayne Smith
Elbert County Public Health has recently hired a new Administrator, Dwayne Smith. His charge is to promote and protect the health of people and communities where they live, learn, work, and play.
While a doctor treats people who are sick, public health practitioners try to prevent people from getting sick or injured. The duties of a public health administrator vary, but commonly include assessing community health issues to determine risks and problem areas. It also includes developing outreach and education programs to inform and teach residents how to improve their health and avoid different risk factors that contribute to poor health.
Dwayne and his family moved to Colorado from South Carolina eight years ago when hired by the Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. He most recently served as a Strategist in the Child Health Advocacy Institute, the community engagement arm of the hospital. After working in hospitals for the past twenty years, he’s eager to get back to focusing on �€•community-centered, primary prevention efforts aimed at keeping folks out of healthcare facilities.
In his early morning commute to Kiowa, Dwayne loves to watch the sun break over the wonderful landscape. �€•I started my career working in rural public health in communities similar to those in Elbert County,�€– he says. �€•I’ve always appreciated the strong spirit of collaboration among residents. I am also excited for the opportunities Elbert County has to shape its future while growth continues in the county.
While the Public Health Department has a small staff, they are dedicated to serving the public health needs of residents and businesses of Elbert County. Dwayne says, �€•We understand the challenges to promoting health in rural communities, including access to resources for physical and mental health. We can leverage history and culture assets for rural communities to improve health outcomes.
Public health programs help kids grow up healthy and help build strong communities. Public health saves lives and saves money. Community-focused public health and prevention programs reduce infant deaths, and reduce adult deaths from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer.
The changing characteristics of the projected population growth identified by the Colorado State Demography Office will influence the scope and emphasis of public health. The rate of this growth will affect long-range planning of community health and future services. In the coming year, the office will partner with the Colorado School of Public Health to complete a community health assessment and develop the Public Health Improvement Plan required by state statute. These processes will rely heavily on input from residents and communities across Elbert County, including populations at a higher risk for poorer health outcomes. In late winter and throughout spring, they will solicit feedback from residents to inform their future goals.
A core function of public health is to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy. That can mean vaccinating children and adults to prevent the spread of disease, or educating residents about the risks of alcohol and tobacco. Public health sets safety standards to protect residents from communicable disease outbreaks, prevent injuries and shed light on why some of us are more likely to suffer from poor health than others. Other examples include promoting smoke-free indoor air, the importance of using seatbelts and child car seats on every trip, spreading the word about ways to promote physical activity, and providing science-based solutions to problems.
A few of the more visible services Elbert County Public Health provides involve conducting health inspections of many local facilities, including:
• Restaurants, grocery stores, and mobile food vendors to enforce local food codes, educate staff on proper food handling practices, and help prevent food borne illnesses.
• Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (i.e., a septic system) that treats wastewater on an individual’s property. Properties that a wastewater utility cannot serve need septic systems. Elbert County Public Health issues permits for the installation, repair, and use of these systems throughout the county.
• Child care centers to ensure we meet minimum health regulations and provide educational information. This helps to ensure Elbert County children have a safe and healthy environment that supports early learning and growth.
Elbert County Public Health also processes requests for Vital Records (i.e., birth certificates and death certificates), partners with Tri-County Health Department to promote tobacco prevention strategies, and coordinates local Child Fatality Prevention System efforts. In the months to come, they will begin coordinating a child passenger safety inspection station, where families can schedule an appointment to have their child’s car seat checked for proper use, installation, and recall history.
The staff looks forward to working with Elbert County communities and residents to identify opportunities to promote health. Everyone can do something, including practicing healthy habits like wearing their seat belt, drinking water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, and dedicating time to walk every day.