SNOW HILL – The area’s aging population, the nationwide opioid epidemic and increasing cuts in grant funding are the chief concerns for Worcester County’s incoming health officer.
As she prepares to assume leadership of the Worcester County Health Department, Rebecca Jones says she hopes her knowledge of the agency and the county at large will aid her as she takes on the role long held by health officer Debbie Goeller.
“I’m from Worcester County and I love the opportunity to give back to the community that raised me and gave me so much,” Jones said.
Jones, who has worked at the health department since 2000, takes over as health officer July 1 following Goeller’s retirement. Jones says one of her biggest challenges will be filling Goeller’s shoes.
“They are tremendous shoes to fill,” she said, adding that Goeller had headed the department for 25 years. “She brought us to where we are today.”
Jones though has herself played a part in the operation of the department for several years. After serving as a community health nurse supervisor for many years, she is currently the nurse program manager for adult services and director of Maryland Access Point for Worcester County.
Jones, a graduate of Snow Hill High School, says she was attracted to a career in a public health because of the reach it would have. She knew she’d be doing more than treating individual patients at their bedsides.
“It gives you a broader scope and the ability to impact programs that can help people,” she said. “Very few people can truly say they enjoy coming to their job every day. I love coming to work.”
She credits the array of positions she’s held at the health department with building her leadership skills and preparing her for the job of health officer.
“I’ve had my hands in a variety of programs,” she said. “That gives me credibility.”
According to Jones the issues she’ll be tackling with her team at the health department are the same ones that have been identified in the most recent Worcester County Community Health Assessment. One of those is the county’s aging population, the second fastest growing in the state.
“That trend is continuing,” she said. “We need to be making sure we have services in place to support an aging community.”
Another key issue facing county health officials, and those everywhere, is the opioid epidemic. Just this year the county released its first Heroin/Opioid Community Response Plan, intended to coordinate the local response to the epidemic.
“That’s going to be an ongoing battle,” Jones said.
The health challenges facing Worcester County will be made more daunting by the fact that funding sources available to the health department have decreased, Jones said. Though grants have funded many programs for years, Jones says they’re beginning to disappear. Some programs that were once free to area residents now come with a fee attached. Jones says that may be a difficult adjustment for members of the public.
Nevertheless Jones is looking forward to the opportunity to lead the Worcester County Health Department into the future. She’s thankful that the agency has an experienced leadership team to support her.
“They have longevity,” she said. “It’s comforting to know you have such senior leadership.”