Opinion

We’re keeping Kitsap healthy and safe

This is National Public Health Week. And why should anyone care?

I want talk about why and share just a few of the things we do every day to make sure Kitsap County is a safe and healthy place.

First, I should probably define public health.

Everybody knows about “healthcare” — the doctors, nurses and hospitals that take care of individual patients. Not too many people know about “public health,” because we do our work behind the scenes.

Our patient is the entire community, and we focus on preventing illness and injury so people will need less “healthcare”.

We protect you from health threats — the everyday and the exceptional:

• We make sure your food is safe. We teach safe food handling everywhere food is sold in the county.

If illness caused by contaminated food occurs we do detective work to find the source and stop it, plus we get the word out so people who purchased it will know about the problem.

• We make sure your environment is safe. We make sure well and septic systems are built right and working properly.

We monitor all kinds of impacts to Kitsap County’s groundwater to make sure that development doesn’t affect water quality.

We constantly monitor shoreline water quality to make sure toxins or bacteria won’t make you sick when you swim, fish or harvest shellfish.

We prevent hazardous waste from homes, businesses, drug labs or other sources from polluting our neighborhoods and we assist with cleanup efforts.

• We stop diseases from spreading. Public health has eliminated smallpox and polio in the US and brought measles, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, and other infectious diseases, like the H1N1 virus, under control.

We’re still working to prevent and stop the spread of TB, HIV/Aids and many sexually transmitted infections.

Some day, we hope to eliminate these, too.

• We are ready to protect your health in case of an epidemic, a natural or a man-made disaster. We quickly identify the effects on human health and lead the medical community’s response.

We coordinate the delivery of drugs, supplies, vaccinations needed.

• Public health scientists proved that second-hand smoke is harmful. Now laws exist that ensure you don’t have to be around it when you shop, dine or attend public events.

• Public health researchers proved the benefits of fluoride in water systems. This has played an important role in reducing cavities in children (40 to 70 percent) and tooth loss in adults (40 to 60 percent).

• We work with schools, employers and community organizations to make sure everyone has access to information about how to live a healthy and safe life.

For example, our education about the latest research on safe sleeping for babies has greatly reduced Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

• We help make the healthy thing to do the easy thing to do. We consult with local government on ways that they can use planning policy to make it easier for all of us to be more physically active and eat more healthy foods.

Having more bike and walking paths and healthier food in schools is proven to reduce the biggest health threat that exists today – obesity.

We identify health inequalities and work to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens have access to critical health care services.

• We work with the local medical community to improve access to pregnancy care and mental health care for people with little or no insurance.

• Our maternal-child health nurses visit first-time mothers and pregnant women with low incomes to make sure they have the support systems needed to deliver a healthy baby and raise a healthy child.

This helps prevent high health care and education costs in the future.

• We coordinate a local coalition of school, law enforcement, faith, government, business, medical and other members who are focused on reducing alcohol, drug and tobacco use among our young people in Kitsap County.

Want to know more about what we do for you? Visit our Web site (www.kitsapcountyhealth.com/) and watch the short and inspiring video about how we’ve got you covered — from birth to old age, all day — and every day.

Dr. Scott W. Lindquist is the health officer and director of the Kitsap Health Department.

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