Health district holds open house to showcase services

By Lindsay Carey, Staff Writer

Plainville-Southington Health District officials recently held an open house to inform the public about the support and services that they provide for the two towns.
Shane Lockwood, director of the Plainville-Southington Health district and Deputy Commissioner Katherine Lewis, from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, led the information session and the following discussion.
This effort to inform the public is a part of a statewide campaign called “Lead Public Health.”
“We’re going around the state and helping people understand what it is that public health does for them and how they can benefit everyday without even knowing,” said Lewis.  “Lead Public Health is a way to try to create a demand for public health. It’s also an opportunity to create a dialogue and a vision for what a robust public health system looks like in the state of Connecticut.”
Lockwood said when most people think of public health, they mistakenly think of them as doctors, who can address their individual health concerns. However, public health is more concerned with the overall health of a district or state.
Lewis defined public health as, “all the things that we do as a society to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy.”
She also said that public health should be thought of as upstream.
“Typically in health care, we’re down stream,” said Lewis. “We’re pulling people out of that stream, we’re saving people once they have a heart attack, we’re doing emergency surgery, all of these heroic things to save people’s lives. But that’s downstream, it’s very expensive.”
However, she explained upstream public health is more effective and less expensive, because it is inherently preventive.
Lewis explained upstream public health is giving people the medication that they need, getting people to eat better so that they can control their diabetes, so maybe they don’t get to that down slope in the river.
To further their point, Lewis and Lockwood shared a list of the many public health advancements that have prolonged life such as vaccinations, motor vehicle safety, safer workplaces, control of infectious diseases, decline in deaths from coronary heart disease and stroke, safer and healthier foods, healthier mothers and babies, family planning, fluoridation of drinking water, and recognition of tobacco as a health hazard.
One of the upstream policies that Lewis mentioned was improved motor vehicle safety. Seat belt laws and the Click it or Ticket campaign have reduced the number of fatalities from car accidents.
“Through our epidemiological studies we were able to determine that car accidents were causing a lot of deaths,” said the deputy commissioner. “And through technological change in seat belt laws and so on, we’re able to save a lot of lives.”
Another example she provided was smoking laws. Lewis said Connecticut has strict smoking laws because the Department of Public Health recognized that smoking is not good for people and did something to change policies and systems so that everyone can be healthier.
Lockwood said this is something the Department of Public Health is hoping will happen with the issue of childhood obesity.
“We’re looking at some of the policies of removing sodas from schools, the lunch menus at the schools and trying it that way,” said Lockwood. “But we know this is going to be a generational thing, but we’re trying to change the trend of childhood obesity.”
Some of the other preventative work for public health involves assessing diseases and monitoring food outbreak. Lewis then explained the next step is to look at policy development and to see what the policies are that can be created to keep everyone safe and healthy.
One of the purposes for this service is to make sure that everyone is taken care of on a broad spectrum.
“We assure that you get the services you need no matter where you live, no matter what your status is, no matter who you are,” said Lewis. “You’re going to get the same services every other resident of the state of Connecticut gets.”
The Plainville-South-ington Health district, like many other health districts, monitors and assesses public health.
It monitors outbreaks and disease reporting and then follows up with people on their condition. The health district has also partnered with six clinics between the two towns to make sure that people are getting their flu shots.
However, Lockwood said numbers have decreased, because of pharmacies offering flu shots.
“We are just trying to promote the flu shot,” said Lockwood. “They don’t necessarily have to come to us, we’re just happy if they get it.”
There were about seven to 800 flu shots administered at the clinics between the two towns.
The school absentee records are monitored in an effort to catch any outbreaks.
“If kids aren’t going to school, there’s probably something happening,” said Lockwood.  He said they heavily monitored school absentee records back when the H1N1 virus was going around.
It also monitors public places like pools, daycares, restaurants and septic systems.
Lockwood said the Plainville-Southington health district puts on free training courses at facilities.
“We’re trying to let them know that we’re a resource and ask questions rather than just seeing us that one time a year during inspection,” said Lockwood. “We’d rather them know the information upfront so that they’re using that information every single day rather than the one to four times a year that we’re inside there.”
Lockwood said there are about 462 restaurants between Plainville and Southington and they are inspected between one to four times a year.
There are also 17 public pools between the two towns, along with a water park, so summers can be busy for the health district. Indoor hotel pools are inspected year round.
Beyond monitoring and inspecting, the Plainville-Southington Health District is working to make active strides towards a healthier community.
It is affiliated with both farmers markets in the town and has a booth set up at each market on Fridays to share information about how to eat healthier.
The health district is also responsible for the increase in bike racks around both towns through a federal grant.
Lewis suggested the public can also promote public health by going to their local town meetings and writing to the media about their concerns.
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