One of the biggest challenges Local Public Health Agencies (LPHAs) continue to face is raising awareness in the community of not only what Public Health does, but why they do it. If you spend time reading our report, you will have a much better idea of what the Jefferson County Health Department does. LPHAs focus on improving the health status of their community. Their goal is to make life healthier and safer for every resident or visitor. The Public Health system assures that the food and water you consume is safe, that the air you breathe meets quality standards, and that people are protected from communicable, chronic and environmental diseases.
Some of these activities are legally required, including enforcement of public health laws and regulations. But LPHAs also continuously assess the health status of the community to identify significant health issues as well as gaps in needed services in the community. They then make plans and implement policies to reduce health risks identified in the community, and establish programs to improve health status. Responding to natural and man-made disasters has become increasingly important. They inform and educate members of the community and link people to needed health services whenever possible. These are examples of the “essential services” of Public Health, and why we do what we do.
Public Health is a sophisticated science for identifying and dealing with real and potential health threats to the community. It relies upon a diverse group of professionals including nurses, environmental specialists, health educators, administrators, nutritionists, epidemiologists, physicians and laboratory workers. Others, not usually thought of as public health workers, are also essential to public health work (for example, soil scientists, attorneys, engineers and computer program designers.) These types of experts have been involved in dealing with environmental issues in Herculaneum and Hematite. Each of these individuals, with their own unique set of knowledge and skills, and the organizations that employ them, make up the public health system. Working as a system, public health is able to protect citizens from communicable diseases and other threats. Public health workers use surveillance to discover the source of a disease or environmental threat, identity and treat those who may have been exposed, and assure that the threat is reduced or eliminated.
In a sense, all of us are part of the public health system. First, we should take responsibility for our own health and safety and that of our families. That means we need to learn about health and then make informed choices about tobacco, alcohol and other substance use; nutrition and physical activity. We should see the appropriate provider regularly for prevention and treatment.
And finally, we should care about and get involved in health policy issues in our community. For example, everyone should have access to means for physical activity and a safe and clean environment. The more community involvement there is, the healthier the people are, which is the goal we all want to achieve.