April 4, 2012

North Ga. Health District makes an impact on region

Initiatives include helping people with STDs, restaurant inspections

By Jennifer King
District Public Information Officer

— The North Georgia Health District may not be well-known, yet it provides vital services that most people tend to take for granted but would never want to live without.

Based in Dalton, in the Bry-Man’s Plaza North Shopping Center, with a staff of 60 led by Health Director Harold Pitts, the health district is one of 18 districts within the Georgia Department of Public Health and serves more than 427,000 residents in Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield counties.

While providing administrative and technical support to each of its county public health departments, the district also offers district-wide public health initiatives that improve the quality of people’s lives through disease preventatives and healthy lifestyle education.

The vision of the North Georgia Health District is healthy people, families and communities, and its mission is to promote and protect the health of people within the district wherever they live, work and play through population-based preventive programs.

For instance, the prevention of epidemics and the spread of disease within the district is operated through the district’s Infectious Diseases Department. Communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, HIV, norovirus, Lyme disease, giardia, pertussis, salmonella and rabies are reported to the Infectious Diseases office for investigation. Public health, locally and at the state level, monitors the health status of the community to identify outbreaks and epidemics and to best provide preventive measures.

Anyone who may have been exposed to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhea and/or HIV may receive education, testing, counseling and referral to appropriate specialists.

Those living with HIV are served by a North Georgia Health District program called The Living Bridge Center, provider of Ryan White Part B and Part C. Funded services include outpatient HIV ambulatory care including HIV, primary care and sub-specialty medical care; medical case management and adherence; oral health; non-medical case management; individual and group level mental health and substance abuse outpatient counseling; consumer advisory services; laboratory and nutritional services; pharmaceutical assistance; linguistic services; medical transportation; and HIV counseling, testing and prevention services.

The prevention of disease and its spread is also manifested through support the North Georgia Health District gives each county health department in offering life-saving immunizations to children and adults for influenza and other vaccine-preventable diseases, including state-required vaccinations for school registration.

Moreover, the district promotes and encourages healthy behaviors and injury prevention by aiding the health departments’ provision of health screenings, including physical exams, pap smears and breast and cervical cancer screenings. Also included are family planning services and education as well as prenatal care, pregnancy tests and children’s car seat safety education.

For many years, the health district has imparted tobacco prevention and cessation public education as it warns against the dangers of tobacco usage and secondhand smoke through mass broadcasting, health fairs and public presentations, and as it promotes the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line (1-877-270-7867).

Through the North Georgia Health District, Children’s Medical Services are provided throughout the year for local families who are financially unable to obtain specialized medical care in various areas such as hearing, neurology, cardiac, plastic surgery, orthopedic and follow-up burn care.

Babies Can't Wait is Georgia's early intervention program for infants and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities and for their families, and it, too, is operated out of the North Georgia Health District office, as well as Children 1st, which identifies children who are at risk for poor health and developmental outcomes so that needed interventions can be made to ensure the best health and development of the child.

Women, Infants and Children (WIC) services are based out of the North Georgia Health District office, and these services range from providing vouchers for healthy food purchases, tips on healthy meal preparation for young children and mothers, nutritional support of breast-feeding moms and pregnant women to referrals to doctors, dentists and programs such as food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The health district also has a progressive, state-of-the art dental clinic and mobile van that provides basic dental care for children. These services are targeted toward children who have limited or no access to dental care and offer routine cleanings, exams, X-rays, fillings and extractions, as well as sealants, space maintainers, baby tooth root canals, dental health programs for schools, dental screenings and referrals, and emergency care.

Additionally, through the North Georgia Health District’s Emergency Preparedness Department, local plans are in place to respond to terrorism, natural disasters and other public health emergencies. Ongoing county, district and state public health emergency preparations are coordinated with community partners, including city and county governments, law enforcement, hospitals, health care facilities, schools, businesses, Emergency Medical Services, each county’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and the counties’ emergency operations centers.

Services that are rarely offered through public health but are part of the North Georgia Health District are an International Travel Clinic, centrally located in Ellijay, and MedBank Clinics in Murray and Whitfield counties. MedBank helps eligible clients secure prescription drugs from patient-assistance programs offered through participating pharmaceutical companies.

Last of all, but certainly not least, is one of the most important and more visible public health programs, and that is the North Georgia Health District’s Environmental Health Department.

Environmental Health provides a wide variety of services, including inspections of hotels, restaurants, swimming pools and body art establishments; issuance of septic system permits; investigation of mosquito-borne diseases; collaboration of animal testing for rabies; and much, much more.

While it is true that most people are not aware of the North Georgia Health District or the many services it provides, the lives of everyone living, working and playing within Cherokee, Fannin, Gilmer, Murray, Pickens and Whitfield counties are positively impacted by the work of its dedicated staff each and every day.

To learn more about the North Georgia Health District, log on to the district website at www.nghd.org. The district can also be found on Facebook (www.facebook.com/N.GA.Health) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/NGAHealthDist).