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Rowan County Public Health turns 100

SALISBURY — The opioid crisis. Emergency preparedness. Sanitation ratings.

What do these things have in common? They’re some of the many key concerns under the wide umbrella of Rowan County Public Health.

This month, Public Health celebrated its 100th year. Workers invited community members to a reception to mark the occasion at West End Plaza on Thursday.

Public Health encompasses many services in Salisbury and Rowan County, including the Health Department and the Smile Center Dental Clinic.

“I don’t think people in the community often know,” said Tykeisha Carter, office assistant at the Health Department. “If you’re not in Public Health, you don’t really know everything that it encompasses, but there are so many little things we have our hands in just trying to improve the entire community.”

When Public Health began in 1918, it occupied just a few small rooms on the second floor of the old Rowan County Courthouse. There were three employees: a health officer, clerical assistant and a sanitarian.

For many of its early years, the Health Department focused on acute diseases that led to many young and untimely deaths: Spanish flu, polio, smallpox, tuberculosis and typhoid fever.

Key changes included vaccinations and screenings, the implementation of quarantines, and increased sanitary measures for waste and sewer management.

Today, the Health Department employs more than 70 people and is at 1811 E. Innes St. It is led by Health Director Nina Oliver, and its work now focuses on long-term chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, cancer and substance abuse.

“We’ve tackled the things that kill you in 40 years,” said Elizabeth Davis, a quality improvement specialist with Public Health. “Now we’re expanding life spans to 80 just because of the public health interventions.”

Oliver said the work involves investigating the causes of communicable and long-term illnesses and researching ways to prevent or mitigate the problems.

“Everyone should have the opportunity in our community to be healthy,” said Oliver. “A lot of times, Public Health will work behind the scenes.”

During Thursday’s reception, Public Health presented awards to several partnering community organizations.

The Health Director’s Award was presented to departments chosen by the health director that assist with the administration of public health in Rowan County.

Recipients were the Department of Social Services, Emergency Management, the Sheriff’s Department and Rowan County leadership such as the county commissioners.

Other award recipients were:

• Novant Health, the Partnering for Good Award.

• Smart Start Rowan, the Making a Difference in the Life of Children Award.

• Healthy Rowan, the Healthy Living Award.

• Community Care of Southern Piedmont, the Commitment to Excellence Award.

• Community Care Clinic, the Good Neighbor Award.

• Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, the Golden Heart Award.

The Health Department management team also prevented Oliver with an award as outstanding health director.

“We still have a lot of work to do. It’s important for us to go into the community, to work with our community agencies or organization and individuals within Rowan County,” Oliver said. “Right now, we can’t do it alone.”

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