RCHD: A Hidden-in-Plain-Sight, Golden Nugget
HarleyJo Kennedy Photo
How does one explain what an all-encompassing, public servant, that educates and oversees all things for the public good, entity do? This is the question posed to the local Ripley County Health Department (RCHD) in a sit-down interview with (most of) their staff.
Three weeks ago, Paul Tyrer became the newly appointed Administrator for RCHD. In a recent interview he sat down with all employees (that were available) and discussed their shared outlook and mission.
Tyrer states, “RCHD is the face of the public. We are here to avoid emergency health issues and make sure resolutions and resources are in place to deal with health emergencies before and when they arise.”
Tyrer describes his goal as total transparency. All the employees come from a medical background as well as educators. That is their passion and vision, to share information that will make the public as a whole safer and Ripley County, a better place to live.
Of course, most in this area are familiar on some level with Dr. David Welsh, MD. Welsh is the Ripley County Health Officer. While a long-time servant in the Batesville community, Dr. Welsh became a spokesperson for public safety, education, and awareness during the recent covid pandemic. Tyrer states “Dr. Welsh is the glue that ties us all together.”
RCHD is foremost an educator; a proponent of safe practices. And, as Erica Hicks, Napoleon, says “We are a resource for the resources.”
Hicks is the Administrative Assistant to Tyrer. While her title is “Clinic Assistant” she provides many services to RCHD and the entire Ripley County. As all the employees described their “title” and yet the wide range of services they personally provide, one can see RCHD has one of the hardest working medical staff/teams in the county.
Hicks has just undertaken a new service: Maternal Child Health. This provides resources and materials to educate and keep safe both mothers and children, from all sources.
When Hicks discusses “resources” she is adamant. Hicks states, and other employees agree, that if you (the public) come to RCHD with a need or inquiry, they will ferret out the information and mediate or provide a resolution.
One of the many benefits RCHD provides is lead testing. Starting with the new year, on-site lead testing will be available. It is recommended that infants be tested for lead toxins at 12 and 24 months. IF lead is detected in your child, RCHD will come evaluate your home and environment to identify the source. Further, RCHD will assist you to find remediation and educate you of this process.
If you do not have a car or booster seat, safe sleeping equipment, or a bike helmet, RCHD has resources to provide these for you. Come to them! Take a few minutes to go through a brief education activity and one will be provided.
Are you a diabetic with a full sharps container and not able to get a new one? RCHD will exchange your full sharps container for an empty one. If you are under- or un-insured, come to the Health Department. They will make sure you and/or your child/children receive all immunizations that are recommended. RCHD provides blood pressure and blood sugar monitoring. They provide many health monitoring services.
Ashley Salyer, Versailles, is the “Medical Clerical Assistant.” This hardly describes her duties. She registers births and deaths, provides assistance and manages data and also participates in the tobacco cessation programs. Salyer is described by co-workers as a willing partner for any project that needs more hands. With a background in both medical and education she is passionate to provide information in whatever form is needed.
Candy Guenther, LPN, the “Public Health Nurse” is a person one can find in the office doing anything from simple mechanical repairs to immunizations. She educates wherever and whenever possible to better the public as a whole. Guenther assists with TB and lead testing, education both in office and in the public. She even arranges resource fairs for local long-term-care facilities (nursing homes).
Traci Bauman is the “Chief Food Specialist.” However, this actually means she inspects all retail food sites (Food Trucks too); piercing and tattoo facilities; environmental housing complaints; and, animal bites. However, 20 years ago, she started at RCHD with environmental complaints and assisting in septic/sanitation inspections.
RCHD is the first line inspector to assist any citizen with all building projects. A building project must first have sanitation certification to receive any other permits. Elisha Forwalt, Osgood (formerly of Holton), leads the environmental and sanitation inspection and compliance team. Forwalt’s title is “Environmental Health Specialist-Sanitarian.” As one might expect, Forwalt is the inspector for all septic systems and pools; while she also assists with housing complaints and animal bites.
Lindsey Meyer, Friendship/Cross Plains, is a part-time employee of RCHD. She assists the environmental issues department as well as data input and records. Her title is “Data Management Clerk – EHS Assistant.”
Missy Byrd is the “Public Health Assistant” and assists the public with ancestry searches and all things related to births, deaths, and paternity affidavits. Byrd ensures accuracy with vital records. She works with the state and courts to correct data that is incorrectly submitted. She enters previously stored written records (starting in 1907) into an updated program to make all the records electronically connected.
Many improvements are available in these new programs. One high-lighted in the discussion was that by being statewide, these records can be flagged. Such as, if a person is missing or abducted. When someone makes an inquiry or tries to access the electronic record these individuals might be located and provided assistance.
Another of Byrd’ responsibilities are “Harm Reduction.” Simply stated, she is an expert at finding solutions to health risks whether they be environmental, substance, or behavioral and reducing the inherent risks.
Which brings us to the last staff member. “CoAg School Liaison” is the actual title for what Sara Bowling does. She identifies needs within the school systems and finds solutions. Then Bowling shares all the solutions with all the Ripley County Schools. Whether it is a meeting with all school nurses in RCHD office or an outreach in the community, such as the “Back to School Bash” held this past fall. Providing services and keeping kids in education is the goal of Bowling and the entire RCHD team.
So, what does RCHD do? They address needs in the community. They pour over information from previous health dilemmas such as H1N1, influenza, and covid to avoid problems, assess responses and plan to avoid future issues when they arise. RCHD educates and protects the public and their health interests.
RCHD is overseen by a “Board” that consists of multiple specialties: at least two, doctors of different modalities; lawyers; nurses; and citizens that live in Ripley Co. They must be a balanced lot and cannot consist of a majority of any one political party. The President of the Board is, Jason Smith (some may remember the “Stop the Bleed” kits he headed a drive to distribute to all area schools and in every room).
Tyrer is clear. He is nothing without the great team of individuals assembled and that have worked for RCHD longer than he has. However, having been for many years, and still being the manager of the Free Clinic in Batesville, Tyrer stresses the need to work as an inter-related unit. Do not separate entities. Many clinics and RCHD work together to provide the same services, or other services, that facilitate each other’s purpose.
While Tyrer attends to meetings, budgets, and grant criteria; he is making Ripley County a better, safer place. He issues one request for the public: “Come to us!” Tyrer pleads, “we cannot help with anything, unless you approach us. If we do not have a program in place to take care of a need, we will find one.”
Hicks reiterates this plea as well. She states, “I even found a resource that specializes in giving children on the autism spectrum vaccines.” All of these fine individuals stress this plea: “come to us! We will work together to find a solution.”
You can reach RCHD on the web at: www.ripleyhealth.com or call: (812) 689-5751.