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The Role of Public Health at ClackCoKids

By Georgia Ullmann, Health Services Manager   |

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on public health and the people in the field who strive to keep communities safe. But many people often wonder, “What is public health?” Unlike the medical field, which is focused on treating patients, public health treats the community. Public health looks at ways to improve the health of a community with a program or intervention just like a doctor who looks to improve the health of a patient with a medication.

One of the best ways to understand public health work is through a common parable in the industry credited to sociologist Irving Zola. In the story, a person stands alongside a river filled with people drowning. The person pulls people out of the water to safety as quickly as possible, but it’s impossible to keep up with the volume of people. Therefore, the person sees that it is more effective to move upstream to see why people are falling into the river in the first place and prevent it from happening.

This parable illustrates the concept of prevention and why public health often takes an upstream approach to prevent a crisis from happening.

Public health is sometimes invisible work. Think about every time you drink clean water or breathe clean air. Public health is responsible for water and air quality standards and for issuing notices when levels are unsafe. You can start to see how these community-level interventions keep you and our community safe.

At ClackCoKids, we see how parts of our program relate to public health. For example:

  • We ensure all our classrooms are safe by regularly testing the water and paint for lead, a natural mineral that can be harmful to children.
  •  We provide health screenings to children to find health concerns early, so children can get treatment quickly.
  • We make sure that children and families are connected to health insurance, so they can receive preventative care in addition to care when they are sick.
  • We feed children foods full of nutrients to promote healthy development and prevent health problems later in life.
  • We provide high-quality education, which is important because education is a predictor of how healthy a person will be as they age. More education gives people access to better job opportunities, more financial resources, and access to health care.

In so many ways, we are looking “upstream” to catch concerns before they become greater.

Like many public health organizations, ClackCoKids is focused on improving the Five Social Determinants of Health:

  1. Healthcare access and quality
  2. Education access and quality
  3. Social and community context
  4. Economic stability
  5. Neighborhood and built environment

We know that health is impacted by so much more than our time in a doctor’s office. It’s impacted by the environments where we are born, live, learn, work, and play. We’re proud of the work that we’re doing to be a safe place for children and staff to learn, play, and work. We look forward to celebrating all our public health accomplishments as we kick off Public Health Week!

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.