As citizens of or visitors to the area, we expect that the community be safe and healthy at all times. We wouldn’t allow anything less for our families, our friends or ourselves.
Yet how often do we consider the people and the processes that are behind the scenes, doing just that?
As the administrator for the Phelps-Maries County Health Department, Jodi Waltman provides an eye-opening glimpse into the essential and immense responsibilities that rest on the shoulders of our public health department.
Josephine Waltman is originally from Pasadena, Texas, and made her way to Rolla by way of Washington, D.C., in 1987.
A retired United States Army nurse for 22 years and a pediatric nurse for 20 years, with a master’s in nursing from VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) Medical Center, and a master’s in education from Boston University, Waltman has been caring for the health and well-being of others her entire career.
She also holds a bachelor’s of science in nursing from Texas Women’s University and has made the field of health and safety not only her career, but a passion in her life.
Upon retirement from the Army ranking lieutenant colonel, she ends her path in the military just as her father did after serving in World War II.
She joined the health department in 1999 and manages a community care clinic for low-income or uninsured individuals. This begins her longtime career and dedication to the department and a healthier environment for the area.
With determination and perseverance driving her interests Waltman explains, “The food code helps to prevent illnesses from happening.”
Food safety classes are offered to volunteers and extreme care is provided during natural disasters and emergencies. The health department acts as first responders in these instances by inspecting food and fire safety precautions, providing lists of safe temperatures for food items and advising when to destroy food items to prevent the growth of bacteria.
Inspections are also performed to confirm that the proper items have been destroyed or are being stored properly. Waltman refers to these as “win-win partnerships.”
She also explains, “The public doesn’t think of us as first responders.” However they often are. This is among many of the misconceptions the public has regarding the health department and their vast amount of services.
Waltman explains that there are 700 notifications of food recalls per year and the department is responsible for each of these items to be pulled from the shelves of our stores.
The most serious of these diseases are labeled “class one” and range from glass found in a food item to the deadly disease listeria. Listeria can read as flu-like symptoms which can be an issue when further diagnosis is not made.
Page 2 of 4 - The services provided by the department continue with the ever-important task of safeguarding our children when in the care of licensed day care facilities. Experienced nurses work hand in hand with local day cares providing many forms of care and prevention including CPR instruction and infection control.
Continuing education credits are also provided to assure that licensure and instruction is kept up-to-date. The safety of the public is also protected during inspections of our lodging facilities. Pool safety, fire safety and inspections of laundry areas are performed and smoke alarms are tested to ensure they are kept in proper working order.
Septic systems must also be permitted through the health department. Also in the works is a community health center which will charge on a sliding scale. Funding for this facility is pending.
The work that is done by the Phelps-Maries County Health Department is intently focused on prevention of illness and the promotion of health within the community.
By successfully preventing illnesses in the community and by providing better nutrition and health screening for pregnant mothers and children through the WIC (women, infants and children) program, the department seeks to maintain healthy families.
There are between 1,300 and 1,500 visits to the WIC program in the City of Rolla each year. This program is nationally funded and provides supplemental nutrition to mothers and children who meet the income requirements.
Immunizations protect citizens from many diseases. The department offers walk-in immunizations and conducts an influenza vaccination program each fall by giving 2,500 flu shots. The department visits each school in both Phelps and Maries counties and works in close contact with the school nurse in administering flu shots each school year.
Waltman advises, “If you can get 30 percent to 40 percent of school-age children the flu vaccine you can decrease the flu by 60 percent in the community.”
Vaccinations for whooping cough which is spread to children through adult contact are also provided through the immunization program.
There is also a program in place, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Project (BCCCP) that focuses on early detection screening for low-income or uninsured individuals.
The understanding of how communicable diseases are spread and what precautions should be taken are the life’s blood of the work done by Waltman and her associates. A sharp attention to detail along with highly educated, experienced and trained individuals ensures that our public health is protected vigilantly.
The health department notifies doctors, nurses, school nurses and clinics about increases of diseases in the community.
Many illnesses reported to the department consist of flu-like symptoms, therefore nurses must be consistently conscientious of different symptoms that may allow them to identify illnesses that can be contained and protect the health of the community.
Page 3 of 4 - For example, an individual who reports flu-like symptoms and works with cattle or sheep would also be tested for Q fever as these and other animals carry the bacterium that causes the disease. Many diseases caused by ticks also cause “flu-like” symptoms. Notice of an illness increasing in the community can aid a doctor in diagnosing a patient’s condition.
Doctors, hospitals and laboratories report communicable diseases to the health department. Waltman states intently, “There are 600 communicable disease investigations per year and there are 36 reportable diseases in the state of Missouri.”
The use of a technique called surveillance is highly implemented at the department. This technique serves as an advanced warning system that seeks out issues that could become more serious.
The hospital and clinics share information weekly on the types of symptoms being seen (respiratory, rashes, stomach illnesses) to monitor trends. Alerts are sent to the department to inform Waltman and the department of surges in specific medication sales.
This type of technology allows for the early action that is needed to keep issues from becoming more widespread and complicated. These alerts also give opportunities for the department to take any needed precautions in protecting the community.
The health department coordinates with several important businesses including Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC) and its infectious disease nurse who notifies the department of any issues or possible problems.
Also in partnership are The Community Partnership, Red Cross, Pathways and local home health businesses. There are currently 40 individuals trained as Medical Reserve Corps volunteers to coordinate with the department in providing families better lives through the services of the health department.
Waltman says that successful public health practices seek to “spread the efforts and not to duplicate them.”
Working with community partners to improve access to health choices is among these efforts in hopes of creating healthier families. A focus on making affordable produce more accessible is paramount to Waltman and her team.
She speaks in a discouraged state as she explains that fruits and vegetables are expensive for families to purchase.
Fast, easy access to food with plenty of fruits and vegetables at home, school and work will protect our health. How we eat and exercise will affect our health for decades and can prevent or cause chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
The health department seeks to promote access to safe areas for exercise and affordable produce for our communities.
With the combined efforts of the individuals at the Phelps-Maries County Health Department and its coordinates, the community has an experienced, educated and purposeful team maintaining its health and safety.
Waltman and her fellow associates can take pride in their ongoing and heartfelt efforts to keep the community safe, happy and healthy.
Page 4 of 4 - The Phelps-Maries County Health Department is located in the Phelps County Courthouse at 200 North Main St., Suite G51, Rolla, and can be reached at 573-458-6010.
Visit the Phelps-Maries County Health Department website at www.phelpscountyhealth.com for current investigations and other information.