By ZAK GRIMM
“How many of you know where your Health Department is? How many of you have used a service we provide?” asked Julie Miller, Health Commissioner of Knox County, whose home base of operations is the Knox County Health Department, at the top of the hill on the corner of Coshocton Avenue and Upper Gilchrist Road in Mount Vernon. Miller visited and spoke to the Fredericktown Neighborhood Watch on Saturday, January 14, 2017 at their Quarterly meeting.
“We have a hard time selling what we do, because we do so much,” she said. While many tend to focus on the fact that the Knox County Health Department provides both regular immunizations as well as careful and regular inspection of restaurants within the county, those two pieces are a very small part of what the Health Department offers Knox County residents.
For Miller and her dedicated staff of 42 employees focused in five divisions—Administration & Operations, Environmental Health, Home Health, Prevention, Education and Promotion, and Community Health–every service they provide comes down to three basic ideals: promote, prevent and protect. Within these cornerstones, Miller and her staff work for the residents of Knox County to ensure that they reach optimal health and that the environment surrounding them is safe and healthy as well.
A 9-member Board of Health—appointed by the District Advisory Council—with representatives from all over Knox County, the Knox County Health Department provides environmental-control services such as: public pool inspections to protect residents from water-borne health hazards, Radon testing, care for and investigations into animal bites, septic and well permits, water testing, tattoo and body-piercing monitoring and permits, control and cleanup of environmental hazards such as excessive trash in public areas, annual spraying for mosquitoes, ticks and control of bed bug populations, issues with mold in houses and businesses, and monitoring of lead levels to prevent lead poisoning.
Contrary to what some may believe, the County Commissioners have no authority over the work that the Health Department conducts.
Every day of the year, it is the responsibility of the Knox County Health Department to closely examine how healthy Knox County is—well beyond physical health. “We focus on environmental health, health and safety (working with first responders), traffic safety, and fatalities. Alongside these assessments, the second core responsibility of the Knox County Health Department is to assure each of the county’s 61,000 residents has access to every service the Department provides that residents may need.
“We’re supposed to be at the table, talking to the Village of Fredericktown, if a service we provide is needed,” Miller added. In comparison to all 88 counties in Ohio, Knox County ranks 37th. This is, according to Miller, “not terrible,” but certainly warrants improvement.
Third, the Health Department works with every community in Knox County to continually develop policies to guide and protect every resident in the county.
A well-known service regularly provided, by law, from the Health Department is food service inspections. “We’re not out to shut people down,” said Miller. “Our role is to educate.” Miller said that she doesn’t often frequent restaurants, but that’s not because she doesn’t trust people to do their jobs. But she has been in enough places that have proven to be unable to follow guidelines.
“If it means that 25,000, 40,000 or 61,000 people are going to get sick, I have a very low tolerance for people who don’t want to do their jobs. As Health Commissioner, Miller, a former Registered Nurse, has vastly changed her outlook of being responsible for just a few people—to what it truly means to be responsible for the health and safety of all 61,000 residents of Knox County.
Miller is proud of the fact that her staff has not shut down any local restaurants in the last few years, and attributes that to the implementation of preventative measures, such as educational courses like Person-In-Charge and Serve-Safe.
In Fredericktown in 2016, the Health Department conducted 45 food-service inspections. This isn’t because there are 45 restaurants in Fredericktown. Merely, the Health Department conducted multiple inspections of the same establishments, including new places like Duffer’s Restaurant & Pub. Every inspection is available online or by request as the database is updated.
Beyond the concerns coming from the environment within the county, Miller and her team also provide numerous—and often unrealized—public health services to all residents such as primary physician care and dental work. The dental service, unbeknownst to many within the Neighborhood Watch, has existed within the Knox County Health Department for at least 30 years. The Health Department also offers annual physicals, a vast array of services for women’s health, STI and STD testing and treatments, and investigations into infectious diseases that may work their way into the county’s population—as when the county saw an outbreak of measles, mainly within the Amish community, whom often do not choose to vaccinate. This particular outbreak was the largest outbreak in the entire nation in over 50 years, but the Health Department was very much commended for their hard and quick work to solve the issue.
Additionally, Miller’s staff deals with retail drug monitoring, outbreaks of head lice in schools, blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring, and wound care. As a medical facility, the Health Department also has ties to many nursing facilities and programs, and can offer Newborn Home Visits to families, as well as care for inmates within the Knox County Jail system. As families with children grow, Oral Health Education for preschoolers is a Department-provided service, as well as further dental screenings in later years.
“We really do go from what I like to call ‘Twinkle to Wrinkle,” laughed Miller, as the Health Department is available for people of all ages and stages in their lives.
Currently in development, Miller is particularly proud of the plans to offer Knox County residents a more comprehensive and dedicated Community Health Center, which will be federally-funded with grants that she and her team are beginning to look for. As uncertainty grows for the nation’s future regarding health care access, this new Community Health Center would provide those whom do not have, or may lose, access to health care with the services they need, including all manners of physical and mental health care.
“Our goal is to be up and running by April 2017,” said Miller, adding that the Community Health Center will initially be housed within the Health Department, but it is her goal that the facility get its own space, and have a presence in Fredericktown and Danville—with satellite centers to come later.
In general, as Knox County grows and residents live their daily lives, there are five basic, overarching concerns that the Knox County Health Department are continually keeping their focus on: health care access, tobacco usage and education, obesity, traffic, and climate change.
“As the climate warms up, this brings new bugs to our communities. The problem with this is that we don’t yet have the proper ways to treat the dangers that may come from these new bugs,” said Miller.
Outside of the information that Miller provided to the Neighborhood Watch, as tax season begins, the group also discussed the need to ignore any and all phone calls from people claiming to be the Internal Revenue Service. The true IRS is never going to call households to talk about issues with a resident’s tax forms. Contact will either come from mail or in-person.
“Don’t be afraid to be rude,” said Fredericktown Police Lieutenant Kyle Johnson. “You owe these people no courtesy.”
It is also very important to file your taxes as soon as possible once all documents are accounted for, as it is possible and common that someone can get a hold of your social security number, and use it to falsely file your own tax returns.
In all, the Fredericktown Police Department receives about a dozen complaints per year during tax season for these issues.
Johnson also reminded Neighborhood Watch members of the eventual Spring gathering to help beautify the Mill Street Bridge, and removing the copious amounts of graffiti that is currently very visible. Doing so will allow residents to more fully enjoy and appreciate the riverside trail that is in development from its access point at the Mill Street Bridge off of the Owl Creek Bike and Pedestrian Trail.
Another immediate note concerning the Bike Trail came from Police Chief Roger Brown, whom discovered that a portion of the dirt-and-stone embankment behind what was once Ritchey’s Cardinal Market had loosened in the recent heavy rains, and now blocks the Trail. The OCT is currently closed at the Mill Street access, but is open beyond Mill Street and Mount Vernon Avenue. It is unknown when the Mill Street portion of the trail will re-open, as the Village will need to work together through the issue to find a solution.
For residents seeking community events focused on Village health and safety, the Knox Substance Abuse Action Team (KSAAT) will be showcasing their Hidden In Plain Sight program, which features a set-up model of a typical teenager’s bedroom, allowing parents and fellow young people the chance to learn about risky and dangerous habits and behaviors, and what the many items in a teenager’s bedroom may point to, in terms of being involved in risky and dangerous behaviors.
The Hidden In Plain Sight program will be held on February 1, 2017 at 6:30 at the High School.
Police Chief Roger Brown also announced that he has been given the go-ahead to begin analyzing and reconstructing the much-neglected and destroyed cemetery right next to the old High School building, now housing the School Board Office. For decades, this cemetery was the center of troubling activities by students, and has been largely forgotten about. But, Chief Brown aims to change that, and can do so with the help of community members.
On Thursday, January 19th, Brown will join forces with Fredericktown Historical Society member Jim Wagner and his daughter Krista—a working archaeologist—to meet and discuss the potential of preserving the long-forgotten cemetery, and make it a relevant part of the Fredericktown community once more.
The meeting will be held at the Police Department at 6:30 PM, and all residents interested in learning more about the cemetery and/or wishing to help preserve it are welcome to attend.
The Neighborhood Watch will return to its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, February 14th at 6:30, at the Police Department.
Thank you for your continued commitment to helping keep our community safe, healthy and strong in the face of unwanted and criminal behavior!