Annual Conference Spotlights Public Health Issues

OCEAN CITY – Officials this week showcased various community-based programs at the Worcester County Health Department’s annual public health conference.

On Wednesday, health department officials, state and county agencies and community leaders gathered at the Clarion Fontainebleau Resort Hotel in Ocean City to discuss public health issues and learn about various community-based programs recently implemented in Worcester County.

This year’s conference focused on four initiatives for creating healthy communities – improving access to care, supporting healthy youth and promoting healthy lifestyles, strengthening behavioral health and emerging public health issues – and local programs that achieved those goals.

“This is National Public Health Week,” Health Officer Rebecca Jones said, “a time to formally recognize and celebrate the achievements within our community.”

In a discussion on improving access to care, for example, Atlantic General Hospital’s Colleen Wareing presented the hospital’s efforts to launch two pain management programs, while Rob Hart, executive director for the Worcester County Commission on Aging, shared his vision for a new Community for Life program that offers transportation, scheduling and handyman services to senior citizens.

“Community for Life is our first dabble into prevention …,” he said. “I would like to think of it as us wrapping our arms around the seniors and making sure they can stay where they are at. By that, I mean aging in place.”

Hart said it is estimated more than half of the population in Worcester County is over the age of 50. By the next census, officials project half of the county’s population to be over the age of 62.

“This program allows seniors to live happily in their homes and reduces the tax burden on taxpayers by keeping them in their homes,” he said. “What usually happens is they spend down their money and end up in a nursing home being paid by state tax dollars. So we thought this was a benefit for everyone.”

Mimi Dean of the Worcester County Health Department and state Tobacco Coordinator Denise Albright also highlighted local programs that supported healthy lifestyles, while the health department’s Jennifer LaMade and representatives from the Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction presented a new program that would establish “recovery stations” throughout Worcester County.

The initiative replicates a program already in place in Anne Arundel County and allows those seeking help for addiction to walk into a police station or fire station and get assistance.

“Anne Arundel County uses fire stations for their model,” LaMade said. “Our model will look like what it should look like for Worcester County.”

LaMade said grant funding will be used to launch the program.

“My call to action today is to ask for people’s assistance and support as we build this program,” she said.

In addition, Joy Strand of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission presented attendees with an overview of the state’s medical cannabis industry, while keynote speaker Lara Wilson of the Maryland Rural Health Association talked about the growing needs of rural counties.

Wilson noted rural counties across Maryland identified access to care, sustainable funding, care coordination, chronic disease prevention and management, health literacy, and outreach and education as pressing challenges.

“We really want to make sure we talk to each county,” she said, “and find out what their most important needs are.”

Worcester County Commissioner Diana Purnell stressed the importance of rural health and commended those who worked with the community.

“If I had to promote Worcester County, I would put our health industry at the top of the list of why people need to live here …,” she said. “Hospitals, urgent care centers, physicians are right at our fingertips. What you are doing here today is extremely important.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.