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A person in a lab coat giving someone a vaccination in the arm.

The first week of April is National Public Health Week. Prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic, many people were unfamiliar with this local government organization and the work that it does to keep us safe and healthy every day. 

We are fortunate to live in a state with a well-established public health system. The Ohio Department of Health is one of only 11 accredited state public health departments in the United States. The Ohio Department of Health “Strives to protect and improve the health of all Ohioans by preventing disease, promoting good health and assuring access to quality care.” According to the ODH website, the Ohio Department of Health is involved with over 170 programs that help them meet this mission. Programs range from the oversight and inspection of health care facilities, nursing homes and food service operations to direct healthcare services such as performing screenings and administering vaccines. Local health departments are also involved in ensuring the safety of swimming pools, public beaches and drinking water. Most of us are now familiar with the organization’s role in tackling large public health issues as they arise, such as curbing the spread of communicable diseases (such as Covid-19) on a community and state-wide level by tracking transmission and imposing necessary emergency public health orders. They also play an important role during natural disasters, collaborating with other government and private organizations to navigate such emergencies and coordinate effective responses. Local health departments are charged with investigating and responding to more common situations, too, such as local outbreaks of foodborne illness and exposure to harmful substances such as lead to minimize harm to area residents. 

Another role of the Health Department is gathering and maintaining data including vital statistics such as birth and death certificates and prevalence of diseases, as a way to monitor health trends locally and nationally. Local organizations and governments draw on this data for state and community health assessments and for use in creating Health Improvement Plans, which allow resources to be distributed and used for optimal impact on the health and well-being of those served.

The history of public health in the United States was born out of necessity, as seaman guarding and defending the country, in its infancy, often had difficult living conditions and no place to receive medical care. The New England coast also served as a port of entry for diseases such as yellow fever. In 1799, the first Board of Health and Public Health Department were established in Boston, Massachusetts. One of Boston’s most famous sons, Paul Revere, was the first president of the new Board of Health.   

Today most every community across the U.S. is served by a designated public health department. Ohio communities are divided into local health districts which may either serve a city or the entire county, depending on the geographic location and population. Local health departments are overseen by a Board of Health, made up of local healthcare workers, government representatives and community members who ensure that health and safety needs and priorities of area residents are met, and that public health laws and regulations are enforced.  

Be sure to take advantage of this local source of health services such as immunizations and childhood screenings, as well as health education and community health information and statistics. Your health department is your local “Health Force”, on the front lines fighting for your health and safety.   

Written by Jennifer Little, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Hancock County

Reviewed by Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, OSU Extension Franklin County

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