The Florida Department of Health-Hamilton County joined many other health departments across the state on Thursday, Feb. 20, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Public Health System in Florida, as well as to honor a special individual from the community who helped to shape today’s public health system.
Mark Lander, health department administrator for Hamilton and Columbia counties held two separate celebrations in the two counties beginning in Jasper.
A look at the past
“It is important to briefly look into our past in an effort to shape the future of public health in Hamilton County,” said Lander. “Many employees, including myself, must understand the challenges Florida has faced, which has led to the need for the public health system.”
Lander noted that in Florida’s early years the focus was on fortifying its boundaries with military installations that later became international ports, which opened up the state to diseases being introduced from foreign counties. After a yellow fever outbreak in 1889 the first State Board of Health was established. It was run by Dr. Joseph Yates Porter from Key West. During his 28 year tenure many key moments in public health occurred, including a statewide testing laboratory and the end of yellow fever and smallpox epidemics. Porter also established seven district health offices.
Since that time, much more has been established by the Public Health Department such as county health departments, health mobilization units, mosquito control districts, a radiological lab in Orlando, adult health services, chronic disease programs, 911 hotlines, AIDS reporting and primary care services, which merged public health and healthcare for the first time in 1987, which is a need that still exists in many rural counties today.
They went on to create the Tobacco Free Florida campaign and activated one of the largest mass vaccination campaigns in history in response to the H1N1 (swine flu) virus.
In 2013, their focus was on obesity and obesity-related diseases and they instituted the Healthiest Weight Florida campaign statewide.
Local public health hero
“As with Florida’s public health past, Hamilton County has its own, shaped by many caring and dedicated individuals, however, none stand out more than the person we honor today,” said Lander.
Marvin Rodgers, Lander said, began his career with the Hamilton County Health Department in 1952 by accepting the position of County Sanitarian and later became the county’s first Environmental Health Director. By 1991, Rodgers was the full time administrator for the county’s health department, all-in-all serving the citizens of Hamilton County for 42 years.
“As Environmental Health Director, he worked hard to bring community water treatment systems to the towns of Jasper, Jennings and White Springs,” Lander said. “He was instrumental in the formation of the Suwannee Valley Nursing Center board and the Hamilton County Beautification Committee. He was also an active member in the Florida Environmental Health Association, serving as president, executive director, and on the board of directors before he retired,” he added.
Lander recalled speaking to Rodgers in the early ‘90s while working in one of the district offices.
“When we first talked, the questions he asked were very pointed, asking about my family, the community where I grew up, and where I currently lived, as well as the organizations I belonged to or wanted to join,” said Lander. “I look back now and realize he was sizing me up to determine my potential for public health based on his firm beliefs. I must have passed his test because when I eventually applied for a local health unit position, he gave the supervisor his support for me being hired.”
Lander said he owes a lot to Rodgers and has a greater respect for what he accomplished in such a resource-limited area.
“He got the most out of everyone he worked with, which is why he was successful as an advocate for public health.”
Marvin Rodgers was awarded 2014 Local Public Health Hero for Hamilton County. Environmental Health Director Ron Taylor accepted the award on Rodgers behalf and vowed to make certain he received it, along with a debt of gratitude for all of his hard work.
Other Hamilton County Health Department employees not pictured: ARNP Lori Belote; Chief Registrar Kathryn Owen; Health Support Tech Nina Concepcion; Environmental Health Clerk Jacki Deas; RN Tracie Cox; LPN Terry Cribbs; School Health Coordinator Martha Fultz; Senior Clerk Joanna Griffin; LPN Lore Johns; RN Shankeyda Jones; Maintenance Technician Freddie Mack; School Social Worker Elizabeth Mitchell; and LPN Kathy Wynn.