Regional health effort worthy plan

Monday, April 29, 2002

During the past 27 years, the citizens of Red Willow County and the surrounding area have discovered the value of a public health department.

Between 1975 and 2002, thousands of people of all ages have been served by the health department in a multitude of ways, ranging from immunizations to childhood screening for lead poisoning.

And the list goes on and on, including disease prevention and health promotion programs, childhood health services, new mom-baby programs, blood chemistry and chemical cholesterol testing, as well as resource sharing and referral services.

Knowing the good the county health department has done, Margaret Swanda, R.N., said she did not hesitate when asked to lead the effort to establish an area-wide public health department.

Swanda, the director of the Red Willow County Health Department for the past six years, worked closely with county commissions throughout the area to gain approval for the Southwest Nebraska Public Health Department.

In the past few days, her efforts have been rewarded, with county boards in seven counties taking steps to establish the new area agency.

Annual funding of $155,663 is already in place for the Southwest Nebraska Health Department. The money is flowing to this area as the result of action by the Nebraska Legislature. This district's state senator, Tom Baker of Trenton, was a strong supporter of the legislation which was made possible by tobacco settlement funds. "It took quite a lot of discussion. The bill drafters started out requiring areas of at least 50,ooo people, but adjusted that down to 30,000 to better serve the rural areas of the state," he said.

Even under the lower population requirement, Southwest Nebraska barely came in over the minimum. It took all seven counties in the area to do so, and all came through. The counties -- Chase, Dundy, Hayes, Hitchcock, Hayes, Frontier and Red Willow -- have a combined population of 30,417 ... just 1.37 percent over the minimum.

An added blessing for this area is that the Red Willow County Health Department will continue in existence. With a budget itself of $150,000 -- plus a staff of three full-time and two part-time employees -- Swanda foresees the Red Willow County and Southwest Nebraska health departments working very closely together. The programs will be different but the aim will be the same: promoting public health.

A public health department has served Red Willow County well for many years. The new area department will do the same for Southwest Nebraska.

It's a twist of fate, but funds from the tobacco settlement will turn around to serve the health needs of this area for many years to come.

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