While much emphasis has been put on the COVID-19 work done by the Tri-County Health Department, the agency also provide dozens of unrelated, often unnoticed services that impact the daily lives of the residents they serve.
From splashing in pools and lounging at local beaches this summer to eating at a restaurant or taking a sip of water, the health department has a hand in ensuring safety in many common activities.
“Most people don’t realize public health touches their life every day, even when they don’t walk into our building,” said Jennifer Ludwig, the deputy director of Tri-County. “It’s hard to measure prevention because it’s measuring things that hopefully never happen.”
Some of the lesser-known services provided by Tri-County include NARCAN overdose treatment training for law enforcement, foodborne illness investigations, in-home help for first-time mothers, substance abuse prevention and sexual health services such as birth control counseling, among others.
All Tri-County's services are set to continue in Douglas County until at least the end of 2022 after commissioners and Tri-County signed such an agreement Sept. 28.
Douglas County staff is in the process of studying which Tri-County services are used most by residents and which ones — beyond those required by state law — will continue in years to come. Adams and Arapahoe counties have also said they are reconsidering their future with the regional health department.
The five major categories of service provided by Tri-County are:
• Community health promotion: Under this category of services, Tri-County works to improve the entire population’s health on a macro level by providing education and outreach in areas like maternal and child health, mental health and substance abuse and nutrition. This team also promotes changes in policies related to these topics.
• Nursing: This division provides mostly client-based services such as immunizations, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy testing and support for mothers and their children. The team also conducts investigations of preventable child fatalities and in Arapahoe County, provides dental care to low-income seniors.
• Environmental health: The department’s environmental health team focuses on keeping people healthy through inspections and regulations of places like childcare facilities, restaurants, water treatment systems, pools, beaches, septic systems and landfills. It puts on events like household chemical roundups, which have the goal of keeping chemicals out of the water supply. Douglas County uses this division’s work more than any other services, Ludwig said.
• Nutrition: The Women, Infants and Children Program, or WIC, exists under this division. This team provides education and counseling to individuals and families regarding nutrition and, if needed, breastfeeding. In Adams County, the team also provides food vouchers to residents in need and partners with community gardens to provide access to fresh organic produce and teach families about home gardening.
• Emergency preparedness, response and communicable disease surveillance: This division — one the most well-known over the past year and a half — generally addresses human-made or naturally-occurring public health threats. While this is the team that has focused on the COVID-19 pandemic response, it’s also responsible for investigations and contact tracing of other diseases such as E. coli, rabies and salmonella. It also includes a workplace safety and security program, such as active shooter trainings, fire drills and tornado drills.
Tri-County also has three branches outside of the public-facing services: administration and finance, human resources and planning and information management. The planning and information management team is what creates and maintains data such as the COVID-19 dashboards on Tri-County’s website.
Many of these divisions work together and overlap in their work, Ludwig said.
According to the state’s Public Health Act of 2008, each county is required by statute to provide core public health services and do things like securing “conditions for a health community.” The ways and extent to which that work can be completed, however, is based on the availability of funding and resources, Ludwig said.
“We are way more than just COVID,” she said. “We’re in every facet that you could think of.”
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