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Geri Rackow, Director of Eastern Idaho Public Health (EIPH) has assured the Lemhi County Commissioners the state is concentrating efforts towards Ebola preparedness. At an October 27 meeting with the commissioners she said local emergency services and hospital personnel have participated in conference calls and an epidemiology conference attended by health officials from throughout the state has been held in Boise. Isolation and quarantine preparedness is a priority and Rackow will have the authority to issue such orders if the need arises. She said EIPH will be meeting personally with officials in each of its counties to make sure all plans are in place.

In her annual yearly report Rackow said the year included a division by division review of the agency’s purpose along with a new logo and a name change from District VII Health Department to Eastern Idaho Public Health.

The agency is made up of four divisions which are: Environmental Health; Family and Community Health Services; Health Preparedness, Promotion and Surveillance and, Nutrition. The EIPH Board of Health is comprised of a county commissioner from each of the eight counties within the district along with a representative physician. County Commissioner Bob Cope has been this county’s representative since 2001.

Rackow has completed her first year as director and she reported the 2014 fiscal year was a positive one for EIPH with more revenue at the end than at the beginning. She said the focus the past two years has been on rebuilding the EIPH Capital Reserve fund which goes toward building maintenance, future building projects and vehicle replacement. Rackow said the Eastern Idaho Public Health district has the lowest salaries in the state however, as of last July there was a two percent increase for the staff. She said although efforts are being made to rectify the salary imbalance there is no easy answer to this district’s low pay scale since in 2015 the cost of health insurance for employees has been increased by 16 percent which translates to $126,000. She said another ongoing challenge comes from the many cases where the fees charged don’t cover the cost of the services offered.

As far as communicable diseases reported in 2014, the outbreak of gastrointestinal illnesses on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River took the dubious honor of heading the list. Rackow said epidemiologists were unable to associate the multiple illnesses involved to any one factor even after hundreds hours of work. She said that work was a cooperative effort between EIPH, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and a neighboring county health district.

Kellye Eager is the director of the EIPH Environmental Health Division which is in charge of issuing septic permits and inspecting food establishments which include; restaurants, mobile food units, school kitchens and one day events. Those inspections are unannounced. Eager said food license renewals are in the process of being printed and mailed for the coming year.

The division is also in charge of monitoring public water systems, inspecting child care facilities and solid waste systems. She said over the last several years the number of septic permits being issued in Lemhi and Custer counties has increased, which is a positive sign.

Eager said the DEQ has delegated responsibility for subsurface sewage disposal units to the local public health districts. Those units come into play when it is determined sewage needs to be treated by way of an aerobic treatment system prior to discharge into a drain field. She introduced Jarryd Samples who has been hired locally as an Environmental Health Specialist. He is assisting Environmental Health Specialist Glenn Hugunin. Samples is filling the vacancy left by the retirement of Environmental Health Specialist Steve Adams.

Eager also said EIPH has the largest public waters program in the state. The definition of a public water system is any system that serves 25 individual users for 60 days out of the year. Those systems are subject to regularly scheduled water quality tests. She said that particular program is manned by Idaho Falls employees and that there are Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) contracted surveys conducted in all counties.

According to Eager, health and safety inspections of child care facilities are done by EIPH on a referral basis for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. In 2014 the EIPH staff made 224 child care facility inspections.

Family and Community Health Director Gary Rillema stressed the importance of immunizations especially for Pertussis, better known as Whopping Cough. He said the Eastern Idaho Public Health District has the busiest immunization program in the state. He said it is very important for older people to be vaccinated against Whopping Cough not only for their own protection but for the protection of the youngsters in their world. In the first six months of 2014 there were 193 reported cases of pertussis which is nearly double the number reported during that same time period in 2012 and 2013. The disease proved fatal to an Idaho infant earlier this year. Rillema said extra supplies of the Tdap vaccine are on hand. Tdap stands for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. He said people should get a tetanus and diphtheria booster shot every ten years. He said the current recommendation for adults is that one pertussis booster will suffice.

An important part of the Family and Community Health division is informing and educating the public while offering quality medical care, competence, respect and accountability to its clients. Rillema highly recommended the Women’s Health Check program for women between 50 and 64 years of age.

Rackow announced dental hygienist services for youngsters are being offered locally a couple of times per year and that the service is free for uninsured children. There are also physical education programs for children and work site wellness programs for adults.

The Women and Infant Children (WIC) program is 40 years old this year. Nutrition Division Director Angie Cook said over the last three months there has been a local increase of participants in the WIC program due to efforts by new staff member Leslie Hamilton.

Cook said statistics show that around 23 percent of the children in Idaho are ‘food insecure.’ She also explained that the reason the public health food packages do not contain white potatoes is that according to Institute of Medicine studies, families participating in the WIC food program already include potatoes in their diets. Because potatoes are nutritious and inexpensive the WIC program wants people to try other fruits and vegetables and therefore does not include potatoes on the food voucher.

Research continues to conclude that breastfeeding provides numerous health benefits to both mother and child and Cook said the breastfeeding rate in EIPH’s district is 94 percent. The state percentage is 83 percent and the national WIC rate is 67 percent. The program provides extensively trained and certified lactation consultants for the WIC participants.

In addition to Lemhi and Custer counties, Eastern Idaho Public Health serves Bonneville, Clark, Fremont, Jefferson, Madison and Teton counties.

Questions about any local EIPH programs or services can be found at the Monroe Street facility which can be reached by calling 756-2123.

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