By Julie Ross
In a nutshell the vison of the Mt. Olive Health Department is “Healthy people making healthy choices in a healthy environment.” Its mission is “to prevent disease, promote healthy behaviors, and ensure accessibility of health services.” Both the vision and the mission are being realized through an extensive roster of services and programs.
Although all 565 municipalities in the state are mandated to provide the services of a local health department, not all have one of their own, says Mt. Olive Health Department Health Officer and Director Trevor J. Weigle. Municipalities can contract for services with another municipality’s health department, or be a member of a regional health commission. However, Mt. Olive reaps the benefits of bypassing both options in favor of having a dedicated health department, as do more than 90 municipalities statewide.
A dedicated municipal health department “has a closer relationship with its residents,” observes Weigle. Such a department, he notes, “can respond quicker and provide a wider range of services. Department staff is also available to meet and work with other township departments.”
The Mt. Olive Health Department offers services in six major areas: environmental health, vital statistics, animal control, nursing, health education, and senior transportation. Through shared services agreements, the agency also provides public health services to the Boroughs of Wharton, Netcong, and Mt. Arlington, and to the town of Dover. It also provides animal control services to Byram, Washington, Mt. Arlington, and Wharton.
“In one capacity or another, we service a population of more than 76,000 residents of Mt. Olive and surrounding towns,” Weigle notes.
On the environmental health front, department personnel conducts inspections and issues permits to retail food establishments, recreational bathing facilities, massage parlors, body art facilities, youth camps, and campgrounds as a way to ensure that these businesses operate in a safe and sanitary manner. Because of its rural location, many homes in Mt. Olive are serviced by private wells and individual septic systems. To help prevent pollution to ground and surface waters, members of the department inspect and issue permits for new septic systems, well installations, and alterations to current systems.
Additionally, the Environmental Division inspects residents’ septic tanks every three years. Whenever units in multi-dwellings such as apartments are vacated and before new occupants arrive, staff from this area of the department perform an inspection to ensure that suitable public safety, health, and welfare standards are maintained.
For its part, the Vital Statistics Division issues certified copies of birth, marriage, and death certificates. Personnel also take applications for anyone from Mt. Olive who wishes to get married. The division summarizes data, such as causes of death, for department reporting and health planning. Staff members from this division also perform the office’s reception, fiscal, and clerical duties.
“Our animal control officers are responsible for a variety of services as they relate to the licensing, control, and protection of animals in the Township,” Weigle continues. For example, the division issues dog and cat licenses, responds to animal-related complaints, and inspects kennels. Because prevention of rabies is the most import role of animal control, the agency sponsors two free rabies inoculation clinics each year and responds to incidents involving dog and cat bites, as well as to other incidents that could possibly result in exposure to rabies. Additionally, staff handle the quarantine of domestic animals involved in biting incidents and send specimens of wildlife like bats, raccoons, and skunks to a state laboratory for rabies testing.
The Public Health Nursing division offers a variety of clinics to prevent disease, including child health clinics, men’s and women’s cancer screenings, blood screenings, flu clinics, and blood pressure clinics. In keeping with the health department’s key role of preventing the spread of communicable and reportable diseases, for example, hepatitis A, B, and C; influenza; measles; lyme disease; salmonella; shigella; and tuberculosis, individuals from this division follow up with patients and health care providers when these diseases are reported. Efforts are made to contain contagion and spread of the disease and identify others who may have come into contact with the reported patient. Public health nurses audit the medical charts of public school and daycare students to ensure that they have received all required immunizations.
There is also the Health Education division, whose staff is tasked with bringing informative programming and materials that address health behaviors directly to the public. A health educator remains available to provide tailored programs to community groups upon request and to check the availability of resources that can deliver healthcare education programming or collateral.
“In the last couple of years, we have begun producing monthly health awareness posters and information for distribution/display in Town Hall, at the library, and in our shared services towns,” Weigle points out. “We also now conduct a monthly live interview with (radio station) WRNJ on a timely health topic.”
Meanwhile, through the township’s senior transportation program, similar to a “Dial-a-Ride” setup, senior citizens who lack other means of transportation receive door-to-door rides to doctor’s appointments, physical therapy sessions, and other outpatient services and visits. Group transportation for shopping trips, Senior Club meetings, and the Morris County nutrition program is also provided, once a week, twice each month, and three times per week, respectively. So, too, is a monthly special senior citizens’ trip which, according to Weigle, is “always a hit.” Several fun-filled events are held each May to commemorate Older American’s Month, and an Annual Senior Picnic is a highlight every July.
“This year,” Weigle reports, “we hosted our 43rd annual picnic.”
He adds that while the Mt. Olive Health Department runs many successful programs and clinics, its female cancer screening clinics, child health clinics, and animal rabies vaccination clinics have a particularly large following. However, the senior transportation program is said to be experiencing the most significant increases in year-over-year demand because of the area’s growing senior population.
Such an extensive roster of services and programs is supported by nine full-time employees, among them a health officer/director of health, deputy director of health, public health nurse, registrar, deputy registrar, animal control officer, chief registered environmental health specialist, senior registered environmental health specialist, and registered environmental health specialist. A staff of 10 part-time employees includes a senior transportation program coordinator, five senior transportation program drivers, two animal control officers, and two public health nurses.
Weigle notes that the department’s staff is highly trained, and most positions require a license or certification as well as a college degree. Many of the staff are members of or hold leadership positions on the boards of statewide professional associations, such as the New Jersey Environmental Health Association, New Jersey Association of Public Health Nurse Administrators, New Jersey Association of County and City Health Officials, New Jersey Certified Animal Control Officers Association, New Jersey Registrars Association, and the New Jersey Society for Public Health Education.
Several staff members have recently won awards or earned additional certifications. Helen Giles, the department’s full-time public health nurse, recently received the New Jersey Local Boards of Health Association’s 2017 Certificate of Achievement for Outstanding Work in the Field of Public Health Nursing. Derrick Webb, the department’s deputy director, was the recent recipient of the New Jersey Environmental Health Association’s President’s Award for Meritorious Contributions Towards Environmental Health. This year, Webb and Weigle, along with three other Mt. Olive Township employees, received their nationally recognized Certified Public Manager designation.
Not all staff is paid staff, though. Often, volunteers who are looking to engage with the community or attain a better understanding of its functions donate their time and/or talents to the department.
“We are also always happy to host students as interns for their college graduation requirements,” Weigle says. Two student interns, one of whom is an undergraduate student and the other, a graduate student—presently work in the department. Both students are enrolled at Montclair State University.
If all goes according to plan, department staff will have more to do going forward, because additional initiatives are on the roster. In late August, the department held its first Mt. Olive Health Improvement Coalition meeting.
“More than 30 local stakeholders joined us for a kick-off meeting to start a community health assessment,” Weigle says. “These assessments are typically done geographically at the county level. Health departments serving populations at the municipal level, however, are left to use county-level data that may not fully represent their community. This lack of municipal-level data, however, forces us to plan programs based on insufficient information.”
The local health assessment is aimed at addressing the absence of municipal-level data and at giving the department access to data that will be used as a base for its programs and interventions. Partners are working with the department to conduct focus groups with residents and key informant interviews with stakeholders in the community who are knowledgeable about Mt. Olive’s health needs. With this and other data, the Coalition will prioritize health issues and begin working on ways to address them. Residents will be kept up-to-date on the Coalition’s efforts through the Mt. Olive Health Department’s website, www.mtolivetownship.com, and Facebook pages and will have the opportunity to review and make comments on a draft health assessment report.
“The other big project we are working on is preparation for national health department accreditation,” Weigle states. “We will have to show the Public Health Accreditation Board that we are adhering to more than 100 measures from 12 different domains of public health department core capacity.”
Toward this end, the department is currently creating or updating its strategic plan, workforce development plan, emergency operations plans, quality improvement efforts, and performance management systems. Two internal teams, a continuous quality improvement team and an accreditation preparation team, have been formed to move the work forward. The department’s goal is to become nationally accredited by the end of 2020.