Local health departments offer residents health services spree

Published 2:10 am Sunday, March 10, 2013

Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat

Photo illustration by Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Give me your poor and your rich, your pregnant and those who want to delay pregnancy, those with tuberculosis and those who just want an immunization.

That’s how the plaque might read on the Statue of Liberty if it stood outside the Concordia Parish or Adams County health departments.

The health units aim to be a point of first contact for those who do not have a primary care physician, focus on maternal and child health, the prevention and mitigation of infectious diseases and promoting healthy nutrition.

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Those seeking the health department’s services may need guidance for family planning and birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing or even testing for exposure to tuberculosis, said Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi state epidemiologist.

“If someone is sick from potential STD or need some primary care activities around family planning, we provide those services, but someone who is acutely ill or needed primary care would need to go elsewhere,” he said.

But while the health department aims to be there for those without full access to health care, they will serve all people who walk through their doors, Concordia Parish Department of Health Nursing Supervisor Mary Spann said.

“We serve anybody who comes,” Spann said. “If you have a medical card that covers the cost, we will take it, but if your income is low enough, you don’t owe anything.

“We serve a good portion of the Medicaid population, but we see everybody. We have got people who have no money and people who could go somewhere else but come here because it is convenient.”

For the more mundane aspects of day-to-day health maintenance, the health units provide immunizations.

“Statewide, we give 30 percent of childhood vaccinations, and we provide family planning services to approximately 80,000,” Dobbs said. “We provide those services irrespective of the ability to pay — for people who can’t get care elsewhere, we make sure we are able to fill that gap. We want to make sure these services are available for people who can’t get them elsewhere, maybe because of their ability to pay or geographic location.”

The Concordia Parish health department also offers family planning services, yearly women’s health checkups — such as pap smears — and birth control, Spann said.

“We also do pregnancy tests, but we don’t do a full maternity program. We refer them out to other providers for that,”

Spann said.

While the Concordia Parish department currently offers immunization, it will no longer do so after July 1 due to restructuring from the state health department.

After that point, immunizations will be obtained through private providers, Spann said.

The health department’s tuberculosis testing program doesn’t necessarily see many patients, but the service is still occasionally needed.

“The thing about TB is that many people don’t know they have it until they break out with it,” Spann said. “But you have only got to breathe to pass it or get it, so sometimes when there is a case several people may have picked it up but are not yet broken out with it.”

Both health departments also maintain the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program to provide nutritional support for pregnant or nursing women and young children. The Concordia Parish department’s nutritionist — who also works in Catahoula and LaSalle parishes — is available two days a month for dietary counseling, Spann said.

“She counsels people if they are overweight or underweight, or if they have special nutrition problems,” she said.

And while physical health is a focus of what the health departments do, Dobbs said the Adams County unit also provides screenings for early detection of developmental issues in children such as autism.

Once such a screening was completed, the child would then be referred to the appropriate provider to mitigate any developmental delays the child might develop, Dobbs said.

The health departments also serve as the clearinghouse for vital records such as birth and death certificates.

The Concordia Parish health department is located at 905 Mickey Gilley Drive in Ferriday and can be reached at (318) 757-8632.

The Adams County health department is located at 415 U.S. 61 North in Natchez and can be reached at (601) 445-4601.