Interview with Kevin Hughes
Hi Kevin. What is your Role at the Health Department and what does a Health Department do for our community?
Since May of 2015, I have served as the Health Officer for District Health Department (DHD)#10. Prior to that I served three years as the Deputy Health Officer. November, 2019 marked 25 years that I have been with the Health Department. The responsibilities of a Health Officer can be compared to that of an Executive Director or CEO.
The role of the local Public Health Department is to create and maintain the health of a community. For DHD#10 that means that we are responsible for assuring this for the approximately 261,000 individuals who reside in our 10 county jurisdiction. As Health Officer it is my responsibility to assure that as an agency we respond to any and all public health issues and emergencies like COVID-19. In some instances this is accomplished through collaboration with our community and state partners. Honestly, most people are not aware of the multitude of services provided by a Local Public Health Department and don’t reach out to them until a health issue or emergency arises. One of the primary roles for a Local Health Department is to be that convener who brings entities and/or individuals together to find a solution to a problem.
How have things changed for your agency since COVID-19?
Other than having to close our offices except for appointments or emergencies, and having a majority of our staff working remotely, not much. Our response to COVID-19 is not that much different than it is to any other communicable disease (CD). The primary tools we use to address this and other CDs is case investigation and contact tracing. Once we are notified of a positive case, our CD nurses begin the case investigation. When this is completed, then the process of contact tracing and daily follow-ups begin to try and prevent further spread. Just like other CDs, we will share data and information, answer community and stakeholder questions (as best we can) on it, and keep our community leaders informed. Again, this is the same process we would use for other CDs. If and when at some point a vaccine is developed, we will also assume the role of implementing immunization clinics in each of our communities.
COVID-19 seems to be on the rise in Newaygo County while numbers are shrinking in other places. Why is that and what can we do?
The original predictive modeling on COVID-19 showed that movement in the northern part of the state would be 10 days to 2 weeks behind what was happening in the southern part of the state. This increase in case numbers, which we are also seeing in some of the other counties in our Southern jurisdiction, may indicate that this is now happening.
Another reason for the increase could be that additional testing is being done. We know that the more we test, the more positive cases we will find. At this point, the only new testing location is in Shelby at the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC). [Note: The DHD#10 test site locator on their website lists all testing locations.] They are now starting to test any and all individuals interested in being tested and we know that people from Newaygo County have gone over and taken advantage of this opportunity.
Finally, another reason may be that individuals from the southern part of the state have begun their summer movement up North and are bringing the virus with them. All of these possibilities have to be considered and explored. Again, that is why we employ case investigation and contact tracing. Through that process we can determine whether someone may have been infected locally or may have been infected outside of Newaygo County and is bringing it here. It is important to remember that while the location of a positive case is based upon the address that individual resides at, it may not mean that that is where the actual infection occurred.
As a worker or business owner, where can I turn to know I am following the correct safety procedures?
First and foremost I encourage individuals and entities with these type of questions to reach out to DHD#10. As part of our reopening guidance process, we have identified Karen Ripke as our Reopening Liaison. Karen’s email is email@example.com if someone wants to reach out to her. In the coming days DHD#10 will be pushing out reopening guidance for all sectors of our communities. In addition to that, businesses can also reach out to MDHHS, MDARD, OSHA, MIOSHA as well as their professional associations for reopening guidance. Finally, I also encourage businesses to contact their liability carriers. It is important to do this so that you know that if specific guidance has been provided and you decide to not follow it, will you still be covered?
What would surprise people about the health of Newaygo County?
Newaygo may be a bit more proactive in addressing health issues than some other areas. We have a coalition of individuals working to improve the health of Newaygo County called "LiveWell Newaygo." LiveWell Newaygo meets every third Thursday of the month from 8:30am – 10am at the Tamarac Wellness Center. Obviously at this time we are meeting remotely but at some point we will be back to face-to-face meetings. Individuals interested in being part of this community health improvement effort can reach to either Lori Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sally Mellema (email@example.com) current co-chairs of the coalition for more information.
Where else can we find the best information about COVID-19?
The last thing to share is that individuals looking for more information on COVID-19 can go to the DHD#10 website, www.dhd10.org , and click on the COVID-19 page. Also, when you go to our website you will be asked if you would like to signup for our “Gov Delivery'' system. This is the mechanism we use to send out information and updates to our communities and stakeholders.
In his spare time, Kevin enjoys outdoor activities. He likes traveling to warm places and he has officiated high school football for 30 years.