There is often more to local public health officials than what is portrayed in a summer movie blockbuster. We are not a ruggedly good looking actor fighting a rapidly spreading zombie virus nor do we jump into stopping a deadly disease with guns blazing. The tale of the public health official is much more focused upon prevention, the other side of health.
Still if you ask the person next to you, "What is public health?" you are most likely to get a blank stare. Health is health right? Well, unlike your personal medical physician, public health officials are responsible for protecting and improving the health of a defined population – in our case, the residents of Cass County, Missouri. The staff of the county health department monitors food establishments for cleanliness, tracks and investigates infections, educates the communities about health management and prevention, and protects the county against imminent health threats including influenza, foodborne illnesses, bioterrorism, rabies, natural disasters, and much more.
Every year, local health prevention efforts save many lives throughout the communities in Cass County by providing the tools our residents need to avoid certain illnesses and to monitor chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and even diabetes. Yet, many times these efforts go unnoticed as prevention isn’t as newsworthy as death and despair. The face of public health often is an invisible one, sharing the shadows with the very problems that can wreak havoc upon a population. While the fight that protects those important aspects of society is continuous, the importance of prevention is becoming clearer. In a nation that spends $8,233 per person on healthcare, two-and-a-half times the average of the developed countries below it, the average life expectancy for a US citizen is over one full year lower than some countries who spend significantly less on healthcare.
Enter the Cass County Health Department. Working to curb obesity for the 33 percent of the county that are affected, assuring that our ten school districts are as healthy as possible, or even working with mothers throughout the county to maintain that they are getting adequate nutrition while pregnant are small examples of what we are doing to improve the health of the community. While a recent Trust for America’s Health report showed that Missouri is now last in public health spending per person out of the fifty states plus the District of Columbia, the health department will continue to manage those limited funds to work for the people of Cass County. The Health Department has been serving the population of Cass County for over 76 years, and while we have battled and beat diseases that have maimed, disfigured, and killed those in our community, the battle continues.
Ray Dlugolecki is a health educator for the Cass County Health Department.