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The Garrett County Health Department joins agencies across the nation in celebrating April 1-7 as National Public Health Week.

“Public health promotes and protects the health of people and their communities,” said Garrett County Health Officer Bob Stephens. “While a doctor treats people who are sick, we in public health try to prevent people from getting sick or injured in the first place by promoting wellness and encouraging healthy behaviors. Essentially, public health is the foundation of a healthy community.”

This year the Garrett County Health Department’s promotion of public health week concentrates on five topic areas which cover a wide spectrum of what public health does, including healthy communities, behavioral health, communicable disease, environmental health, and maternal & child health.

Healthy Communities: It’s clear that people’s health, longevity and well-being are connected to their communities – the places we live, learn, work, worship and play. We know that healthier communities have health-promoting environments such as parks, safe walking spaces, safe and affordable housing, full-service food stores, and access to health care. We also know that good health requires moving beyond a focus on individual health behaviors to focus on underlying social conditions like the health care system and the built environment, or the human-made surroundings that provide the setting for human activity.

That’s why your public health workers at the Garrett County Health Department partner with worksites to create walking trails for employees, inspect restaurants to ensure safe food handling and preparation, support schools and towns as they establish tobacco-free zones, and provide after school programs that offer healthy meals and connections to other family services.

Behavioral Health: Addressing the relationship between physical and behavioral health, including mental health and substance use issues, is crucial to promoting health and wellness.  Some stress is healthy, but when stress becomes severe, our ability to cope with stress is exhausted. The effects can be negative on our health, relationships, and emotional well-being. It is estimated that a large majority of doctor visits are due to stress-related conditions.

Behavioral health touches all of our lives in some way. It is important for everyone to know that help for behavioral health conditions is available. For further information regarding local resources, the Garrett County Resource Guide can be found on the mygarrettcounty.org webpage. There is a toll-free crisis hotline in Maryland:  1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Communicable Disease: Preventing and controlling the spread of communicable disease is at the heart of what public health does. Imagine if illnesses like influenza, pertussis, hepatitis A, measles, or meningitis were left to spread unchecked through our community?  Public health nurses quickly investigate any reportable communicable disease to help stop the spread.  Actions such as tracing contacts, vaccination, and preventative medications are just some things in the public health toolbox. Frequent handwashing, recommended immunizations, proper food handling, and safe sex are important strategies that are emphasized by public health.

Garrett County is not immune to communicable disease.  In the spring and fall, there are cases of pertussis (whooping cough), especially in the unvaccinated population.  Summer finds cases of salmonella, campylobacteriosis, and Lyme disease. In the fall and winter, influenza. Year-round, there are cases of hepatitis B and C, giardiasis, shigella, and STD’s including chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, HPV, and occasionally, syphilis and HIV.  Everyone needs to do their part – proper handwashing, staying home when ill, getting immunized, practicing safe sex, handling food properly, and avoiding high-risk behavior such as IV drug use are everyday things we all can do to keep those disease rates low!

Environmental Health: Environmental Health is essential for public health just as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat are important to everyday life. Historically one of the first divisions of public health, Environmental Health has been a force in maintaining standards of our daily essentials in Garrett County. Within the past year, the office performed over 2,000 inspections ranging from food service facilities, swimming pools, water quality assurance, septic systems, etc. Each of these inspections strives to provide a healthier environment. The next time you find yourself pouring a glass of clean water, diving into a refreshing swimming pool, or dining out, think about the care and attention provided by Environmental Health to ensure a safe experience.

Maternal & Child Health: Protecting the well-being of maternal and child health is a key public health area that builds a healthy community and supports lifelong health of the next generation. Understanding well-being for mothers and their children provides an opportunity to predict and address future public health challenges for families, communities, and overall health care.

Garrett County’s maternal and child health programs are designed to empower parents to give their babies and children the best start in life. Programs provide support to promote healthy moms, babies born healthy, and children who enter school ready to learn. Risk factors are reduced and prevented through education, connection to early intervention, and referral to other beneficial supports.

Through their various programs, the Garrett County Health Department provides leadership in promoting environmental and individual health through education, regulation, health promotion, and disease prevention, detection, treatment, and care. In cooperation with other resources, the Health Department is responsible for assisting the community and its citizens to assume responsibility for both individual health and the health of the community.

For more information about public health visit garretthealth.org, or call the health department at 301-334-7700.