Joyce Marie Taylor
Lafayette County Health Department Administrator Pamela Blackmon, RN, BSN, MPH, encouraged everyone at the Jan. 14 county commission, if they haven’t already done so, to get their flu shot. The influenza virus, she said, hit earlier this year in both Suwannee and Lafayette counties.
“It’s not too late,” she said.
The health department began administering flu shots in October for one particular variant, influenza B, but now, she said, they are seeing another variant, influenza A.
“So, it’s still circulating,” she said.
Blackmon said the flu virus usually peaks out in February, but with so many cases already this year, she said they aren’t certain how long it will last or when it will peak.
Although, when one gets a flu shot it is supposed to provide further immunity protection from contracting it again, Blackmon said people need to remember that there are so many variants out there that it is a good idea to get re-vaccinated for the different types of flu.
Influenza, she explained is made up of many different parts. The Swine Flu epidemic of 2009, she said, was made up of multiple pieces of flu that go back as far as 1911.
“There were a huge number of deaths,” she said. “It’s very interesting how those viruses take pieces and parts and re-make themselves.”
Shands Live Oak Regional Medical Center, she said, already had 30 positive lab tests since Jan. 1. Last week, she said, there were about 150 cases of flu in Suwannee County.
“We just need to get those flu vaccines,” said Blackmon.
She reminded everyone that the flu knows no boundaries and doesn’t stop at the county line. Since many people travel back and forth between Suwannee and Lafayette, the risk is there to come in contact with an infected person.
Prior to giving an update on the flu, Blackmon gave the annual report to the commissioners.
The health department’s fiscal year ends June 30 and their goal, Blackmon said, is to produce the report by August or September.
“Invariably, something comes up,” she said.
Last year’s devastating blow from Tropical Storm Debby knocked everything out of kilter, including the timetable to get the annual report completed. Blackmon explained she also handles Suwannee County and that after the storm she and her staff had to temporarily relocate to Suwannee Elementary School in Live Oak for a month due to flood related issues at her office.
Blackmon advised the board that the health department lost their full time primary care provider about a year and a half ago.
“She provided chronic disease management and family planning services,” said Blackmon. “She left us when the state was threatening to pull all the primary care money and that was in 2011 about this time. So, we have one of our providers from Suwannee County, who travels over here every Wednesday and provides our primary care services. Then we have family planning services twice a month.”
The focus of the health department, Blackmon said, is on environmental health and communicable diseases. With two quality healthcare locations in Lafayette, Blackmon said she believes the needs of the county are being met.
“In public health we are used to taking lemons and making lemonade,” she said. “We take what we have and we make do, and we try to do the best we can for the citizens.”
The health department, she said, offers nearly 35,000 services.
“Quite a number of those are our school health services,” she said. “In Lafayette County we provide all the nurses for the schools. We have two nurses in each school, which is higher than the state average. We’re proud of that. We have two aides, an LPN and an RN that oversees the program.”
The biggest project this past year, Blackmon said, was the community health improvement plan that they refer to as a CHIP. Another project is called the CHA, Community Health Assessment.
“We partnered with the Suwannee River Area Health Education Council,” said Blackmon. “We had a month of planning and then we had community meetings a couple times a month for five months, and looked at the statistics for the community and what the health looks like.”
Blackmon said the department will continue to apply for grants to help meet all the needs of the county.