Tackling public health problems

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ILLINOIS — Every few years public health districts identify, then try to tackle, their biggest health problems. It’s no easy task, but it works.

Public health campaigns are one reason why the number of people smoking has dropped over the years. We spoke with two women entering the nursing field who say public health has helped inspire them to build better relationships with their patients.

Those women are Cassidy Kingery and Katie Strompolis. It was pretty easy for them to figure out their life plans.  

“You’re going to do unglamorous things — it’s not all Greys Anatomy, where you rush in or whatever, but what I like about nursing is that you get that time with that person,” says Strompolis.

“I started working at a nursing home and I just fell in love with building that rapport with the patients,” says Kingery.

The Millikin Nursing School graduates know they were meant to help people, but in their last semester, they learned making a plan to help them isn’t easy.

“It was really overwhelming because a lot of these issues they’re not single factor things,” says Strompolis.

The pair worked on a public health campaign – tackling some of Macon County’s most common health problems. Strompolis focused on childhood obesity. Kingery worked on sexually transmitted infections, “You have to think of a way creatively reach this population on a sensitive topic,” she says.

Across the country, billions of dollars are spent every year fighting obesity and the problems it cases. In Macon County, the rate of STIs like gonorrhea and Chlamydia have been higher than the state as a whole. So with their classmates, these two figured out a way to help people understand: getting to the root of the problem, before it grows, is crucial.

“Right now we’re dealing with hospitals, we’re dealing with them when they’re sick. What we want to do is focus in on the community and prevent all these issues from happening,” says Strompolis.

In neighboring Champaign County, health leaders have taken on issues including obesity. By 2010, officials say about 27% of Champaign County adults were obese – compared to about 30% statewide. They’re also working on access to care, behavioral health (including substance abuse and mental health needs) and violence.

“You can say that, actually, gun violence is contagious in the sense that you can usually link them together,” says Julie Pryde, Champaign-Urbana Public Health District’s administrator.

C-U Public Health has worked with the community on these issues. The Community Coalition and CU Fresh Start help fight violence, increased services and staff have helped increase people’s access to care.  

Partnerships help provide fresh food and exercise programs to combat obesity.

“All of those things are very cheap to do up front, but very costly on the back end whether it’s financial or emotional,” says Pryde.

And now, with an idea of what the ‘up front’ of public health care takes, Strompolis and Kingery say they’re ready to join the healthcare field – and see things through to the ‘back end.’

“It helps with compassion, it helps with empathy and it also helps as a healthcare provider with that holistic care to your patient instead of just being a drug peddler like oh take these pills it helps broaden your perspective and helps you give better client-centered care,” says Strompolis.

Public health districts across Central Illinois are now having meetings to figure out the next group of topics they’ll tackle. They should have those fleshed out around summer.

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