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In general, government meetings are pretty boring to sit through. However, the one time that they are interesting to listen in on, is at budget time. This is when you get to see where every dime of your taxpayer money gets spent.

Some departments are more interesting than others, at least to me. My ears perked up when Grace Schmidt, Director of Public Health was speaking to the Board of Supervisors. The list of all of the things that she has available to the community, I thought was worth mentioning to the readers.

The Public Health Department is located in the Service Center, located at 811 D Ave. in Vinton. (For those that have lived in Vinton for decades it's the former West School building.)

The Public Health Department participates in Community Health Education & Outreach. They conduct K-12 School and Licensed childcare audits for Benton County. This year, Schmidt has audited all of the health records for 13 schools and 13 childcare facilities for the 2023-2024 school year. In total, there were 4,007 K-12 students with 98.8% valid records and 701 childcare students with 95.15% valid records.

Schmidt also conducted a SafeSitter Babysitting Program for 5th -8 th grade students. The program teaches infant and child CPR, basic first aid, child development, leadership and business skills. This year the program partnered with the Vinton Public Library and is currently in discussions with Atkins, Belle Plaine and the Garrison Public Libraries. She will also be working with the Marion ISD Homeschool Program for four dates in February and April. These classes are offered at cost to the participants. Some of the feedback that she's gotten about the program have been comments like, "My favorite thing about the class was everything. I also liked the CPR cause it's the most important" and "My favorite thing about the class was CPR. I also liked the videos. I plan to use my SafeSitter skills to watch younger siblings and babysit." Or this one "My favorite thing about the class was it was relatable and easy to catch on. I also liked how we walked through everything together and Grace was so patient with my questions."

Schmidt has also become an American Heart Association Heartsaver Instructor for the program through Mercy College in Des Moines. This will allow Benton County Public Health to teach nine different certification course combinations this spring. Courses include Adult/Infant/Child CPR & First Aid. Many professions like childcare, education, healthcare, security, and transportation require CPR certification. This class is also offered at cost to residents keeping the cost low at 50%-80% less than classes offered in Cedar Rapids or Waterloo.

The Stop the Bleed Training Program is another program that has taken off in Benton County. The Benton County Public Health training kits are loaned out to the instructors to teach the Stop the Bleed class. The class offers lifesaving education on how to stop severe bleeding in an injured person, from gunshot or stab wounds. These kits have been loaned out numerous times since the start of the fiscal 2024 year. Eric Dickinson, a former Vinton Police Department Captain & EMT has been able to complete many trainings using the kits.

Thanks to a larger grant. funding from the State as part of the Public Health Emergency Preparedness (PHEP) grant, all of the school buildings in Benton County that wish to participate will be receiving four free STB kits to use in an emergency, as well as training with the assistance of Eric Dickinson. The only cost to BCPH is the replacement of items in the kits.

Another program the department will offer in the spring is the services of a Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician. BCPH will have certified staff to educate on how to properly install car seats/child restraint systems. The placement of car seats is vital in ensuring children are properly placed in the correct car seat for their age/size, and that car seats are properly installed in vehicles. This education is essential for those new to car seats (including parents, grandparents & guardians), and those utilizing a new system such as a booster seat, or are switching from rear-facing to forward-facing. Schmidt said that thanks to funding from the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, the $95.00 training fee was waived for the hybrid course, with in-person training occurring in Des Moines.

All of the car seat events offered through BCPH, as well as all individual education, will be 100% free.

For those required to wear a mask for their job, the BCPH has equipment that have been calibrated and is available for use by community members in partnership with a licensed Respiratory Therapists free of charge to any individuals/organizations

The PortaCount™ Respirator Fit Tester system can be used by a licensed Respiratory Therapist to ensure proper fit of masks for individuals who may be required to wear a mask for their jobs which includes SCBAs, PAPRs and gas masks. The system is OSHA-accepted.

Schmidt has begun to research other organizations like the National Diaper Bank Network and to see how the department might be able to receive resources and materials to begin stocking a community bank of diapers, wipes and feminine hygiene products.

She has also worked with the Linn County Public Health's Harm Reduction Coordinator to receive free stock and dispenser of condoms to support BCPH's work on Sexually Transmitted Infection prevention.

In addition, she has ordered health education materials and brochures on topics such as heart health, maternal health, nutrition, weather safety, hygiene, cold and flu season education, vaccine education, etc. which are all available to the public.

In addition to all of these projects, Schmidt has received training which included emergency preparedness training. She said that many of these trainings are free, and the remaining can be submitted to PHEP. She's completed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) trainings 100, 200, 700, 800, G290, AWR-331, AWR-362, BDLS, etc. with additional training scheduled throughout the rest of FY24 and into FY25.

She has also completed the Youth MHFA (Youth Mental Health First Aid) training course.

Not only does she have to train, prepare, and continue to educate herself about all possible sorts of health-related issues, but another part of her job is to apply for grants and funding, one of which goes toward her own salary.

She said that the department has an increasing need to be able to hire a Public Health RN and that this has already been budgeted for FY24/FY25. The nurse would take care of any non-clinical aspects like assistance with day-to-day duties, program implementation, disease investigations, on-call coverage & public health emergency preparedness. Clinical aspects would include the implementation of vaccination programming and administration of both the Vaccines for Children program and routine immunizations. A nurse would also be available for blood pressure clinics/maternal health clinics/other walk-in clinics, ordering of community health instruments & supplies, and health education provision.

She said that there is an increasing need for other options for the public health office space/vaccine and exam space. The current office space will not support an additional staff member long-term along with storage needs. She explained that the BCPH is already storing supplies in other locations around Vinton and she would like to discuss other options for storage.

Schmidt is continuing to work on departmental policies and procedures which will be reviewed with the Board Of Health. This will include departmental orientation for new staff, mission and vision statements, confidentiality protocols, emergency procedures, etc

Weekly she is required to complete a disease investigation for communicable diseases in Iowa, including Salmonella, E.coli, Giardiasis, Cyclospora, Campylobacter, etc. Per Iowa Administrative Code (641), Chapter 1, healthcare providers in Iowa are required to report cases of these diseases to Iowa Health & Human Services Center for Acute Disease Epidemiology. She said, "Once my department is notified from CADE, I will reach out to check in on the patient and their unique case to see how they are feeling, and to see if we can narrow down the cause of their illness. This helps in the event of a contaminated source in the county such as drinking water, produce or dairy products, to prevent others from becoming ill. Currently, I average 4 cases a month, each of which requires their own investigation depending on the type of illness.""In situations like the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) case that Benton County saw in the fall, I will review with those in close contact with the flock to determine if there is concern for illness and monitor daily for a short period of time," she said.Here is the link to the Benton County Public Health website if you'd like to check it out!

Overall, the department is kept busy year around, assisting with the health of the community. Schmidt has an eye on happenings in the community and serves with a desire to help to meet those needs.

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TL January 31, 2024, 8:28 pm Thank you for the great information. It’s a big job and it looks like Grace is doing a terrific job.
MM February 1, 2024, 12:50 pm Benton County is so lucky to have such a capable, dedicated Public Health Administrator - and I look forward to seeing this program grow and serve the community even more.
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