LUSK – When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known to some as “Obamacare”) hit the country it focused a great deal on preventive care by making it mandatory for all health insurance policies to cover preventive care 100 percent. Among other regulations it also required hospitals and clinic to have quality measures many of which focused on trying to improve health outcomes with pro-active, preventive health measures that addressed the root causes of disease instead of waiting for diseases to strike and then treating the symptoms. This is not a new concept. Public Health offices around the nation and in Wyoming have been focused on prevention and education for decades. Public Health already knew what the government and insurance companies seemed to just be realizing, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and the public health sector has a low-cost, high-impact model that makes a real difference in communities.
Anna Foreman and Melanie Pearce with Niobrara County Public Health take prevention and education seriously. They know that Public Health services in Niobrara County have fallen in quality and consistency. Their goal is to not only change the perception of public health, but also make a difference in the lives of residents of Lusk and the surrounding area.
Foreman, a graduate of the first EWC Douglas school of nursing in 2017 has been with the public health department for a year. Prior to becoming a nurse she worked in international business development. She worked for a technical scientific software company. She has been working at the Lusk office for a year. In that year she has been trying to initiate programs based on the public health motto of prevent, promote and protect.
Pearce has been a nurse for twenty years and has spent sixteen of those in public health. They both agree that a passion for providing care outside of the typical clinical setting is part of what drives them. Knowing that they have a tremendous opportunity to really make a positive difference with individuals in Niobrara County is part of what appeals to both nurses about working through the public health office.
Public health offers a variety of confidential services that focus on prevention of communicable diseases including child and adult immunization programs, TB skin tests, HIV and STD testing and sexual health information. Following their idea of prevention the office also offers nutrition education, blood pressure screening, medication education, the Wyoming Quit Tobacco program and wellness program visits.
Another focus of public health is maternal and child health; with childbirth classes, pregnancy testing, welcome home visits and infant weight checks, breastfeeding and lactation support and other postpartum care.
Public health also offers the Children’s Special Health program. This program is designed to assist families with children and youth who have special health care needs that require additional support beyond routine and basic care. The public health nurse can provide case management and care coordination support with specialist and there is funding within the program to assist families with transportation costs for specialist visits.
This spring Anna began her Baby Steps walking program at North park to encourage mothers to get outside and address their physical and mental health. Outdoor exercise has many associated benefits and bringing children along so that expensive childcare isn’t required is a key component for many parents. They meet on Thursdays at 9 a.m. at North park.
Foreman and Pearce were both recently certified to teach Tai Chi. They are looking forward to offering classes once a consistent location is found. Tai Chi is a form of exercise. It combines gentle physical movements and stretching with mindfulness. Research has produced mixed results but appears to show that tai chi can improve balance control, fitness, and flexibility and might cut the risk of falls in older people.
The newest program the office is looking to offer is an evidence-based education and prevention program called HealthyU. It was developed by Stanford Medicine and is a free six-week health workshop for people with chronic health conditions and their friends, family and caregivers. The office must have a minimum of eight individuals enrolled to hold a class and they are hopeful that in the future they will be able to offer classes specific to certain chronic diseases like diabetes, chronic pain and others. This program has proven to have strong outcomes in empowerment and management for those that attend.
Niobrara public health is available on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments are encouraged but not required. Most services are available at a greatly reduced rate or completely free.