By Emily Bialkowski
Although no one volunteered to roll up a sleeve and take a shot in the arm, the county’s immunization program was the choice topic at the Aug. 20 Houston County Board meeting. The presentation was delivered by staff from the Public Health Department, who routinely visit to educate the board about the department’s work and raise awareness about health issues in the county.
Mary Thompson, immunization program coordinator, and Deb Rock, director of Public Health, said Houston County is doing quite well compared to other counties in the state in terms of percentage of people staying current on immunizations. But Thompson also warned that many adults do not know about all the recommended vaccines.
Thompson also said Houston Schools have by far the highest number of people in the county opting out of vaccinating their children.
“I take it pretty seriously. These diseases are not gone in our country,” she said, adding that she remembers the day when she had to tell a parent their child died from measles.
Some diseases have also made a comeback of sorts.
“We have more pertussis now than we did in the 1940s,” Thompson said.
Pertussis is a highly contagious respiratory disease that is often preventable with vaccination. Also known as whooping cough, pertussis most commonly affects infants and young children and can be fatal.
The Houston County Public Health Department offers immunizations for children, adolescents and adults. The state provides the county with vaccines, and the department administers them to uninsured or underinsured residents.
Public Health charges a nominal fee to recoup the cost of administering the immunizations, though that is sometimes waved if financial hardship is present. If an individual has private insurance, the department encourages the person to go to their clinic.
Thompson also tours area medical facilities to make sure physicians are aware of any new recommendations. She partners with the schools in the county and is a member of the Coulee Coalition, which helps document and track immunization trends in the multi-state region. “We’re in it to protect the health of the public,” Thompson said.
Oftentimes overlooked in adulthood, staying up to date on vaccines is just as important as it ever was.
“We tend to think it’s just for kids, but we’re trying to emphasize it’s a lifelong pursuit,” Thompson said.
During one afternoon at the Houston County Fair, Public Health counseled 35 adults on recommended immunizations, some of which include influenza, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, pneumonia and shingles.
In fact, Thompson gave a tip on the shingles vaccine: “Just so you know, once you turn 60, that’s when the shingles vaccine is encouraged. It’s a whole lot easier to get when you’re under private insurance than when you get to be 65 and go on Medicare and have to get it then. It’s still possible, but there might be a higher cost.”
County commissioners expressed thanks for the information and thanks for the dedicated work of the department.
In other news, the County Board approved a grant agreement with the state for approximately $112,000 to help pay for bridge repairs.
While on the topic of roads, the board asked County Engineer Brian Pogodzinski how flood repairs were coming along. “We’ve been moving along with our repairs on nonfederal highway systems. Those are moving along pretty good,” he said.
Federal highway repairs, on the other hand, will take longer and may not get attention until next summer, Pogodzinski warned. “There’s a lot of paperwork and documentation. It takes time, but it’s getting better.”
The board agreed to give certain members of the Human Services Department the authority to pursue collections for those owing the county money. Such pursuits have yielded significant funds for the county, with one settlement coming in around $8,000.
From the human resources office, approval was given to hire Maria Stemper as a financial worker in the Human Services Department. Stemper had been the department’s receptionist, and the board agreed to post that position in light of the promotion.
The board also agreed to adopt the Minnesota Department of Human Services Affirmative Action Plan, as opposed to developing their own.
County Auditor Char Meiners was happy to report the county’s annual equipment and car auction netted more than $20,000.
Commissioner Steve Schuldt was called in at the last minute and agreed to be the auctioneer, much to the delight of organizers.
Also, work on addressing highway shop deficiencies continues. The board approved getting an appraisal on a building in Spring Grove. Curt Roverud is looking to sell his facility to the county to possibly house a new shop.