Our Member Spotlight for the month of February is the Chenango County Department of Public Health. Tom Lewis, FaHN VISTA, sat down with Christina Arnold, a Health Educator with the Department of Public Health, at her office in Norwich, NY to learn more about the work her agency is doing in Chenango County.

Currently in New York State there are 62 unique health departments, with one in every county across the state. Each department’s focuses are different, and are based on the individual health concerns of the population’s they serve. Based off of information found in Chenango County’s Community Health Assessment, currently 16.8% of the population lives below the federal poverty limit. Nearly 37% of adults and 20% of children are obese in the county, and according to Feeding America, 11.9% of the population is food insecure.

On the Health Department’s divisions:
The Chenango County Health Department presently has five main divisions; Code Enforcement, the Division for Children with Special Needs, Emergency Preparedness, Environmental Health, Nursing Services, and Health Education. Christina spoke of how there are, “dozens of different programs under those divisions”. Many of the different divisions work on priorities that are laid out in the county’s annual Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP). Christina said based on that report, “chronic disease is one of our big issues, along with communicable diseases, and outbreaks”. Later she added that, “breastfeeding is our big focus for obesity prevention”.

Promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyles:
One of the programs that we spent a lot of time talking about was on the different methods that the health department uses to promote nutrition, and prevent obesity. Christina said, “we touch on nutrition in a lot of different ways during the year”. The health department focuses a lot of its attention on obesity prevention. They currently receive support from the Chobani Corporation, which last year helped to launch a project with the Health Department referred to as The Chobani Challenge that worked as a fitness initiative, with over 200 participants on 36 teams competing in exercise competitions aimed at improving individual health outcomes. She also added her division is working on an obesity prevention initiative for kids with UHS Hospital called Stay Healthy Kids. The target of that program is to reduce the number of obese school-age children in Chenango County, by educating children on how to get fit and remain healthy. In addition to that work, Christina said, “we talk about nutrition in many health fairs, and about (USDA’s) MyPlate with the kids, and also go into the classroom to talk about nutrition programs”.

The biggest social determinants of health in Chenango County:
According to information found in the Community Health Assessment 85.8% of residents in the county live in areas considered rural, and similar to many heavily rural counties in our region Christina believed that one of the largest social determinants to health in Chenango County is that, “people are kind of spread out, and access to care can be difficult because of transportation.” She added that, “definitely poverty leads to many different health problems such as dental issues, and chronic disease, which are big issues that we focus on”.

On her role as a Health Educator:
Furthering our discussion on some of the way’s Christina helps with various programs we talked about her specific role as a Health Educator. She spoke about how, “my roll is for the whole department to have access to someone to teach specific programs, and specific programing, essentially to disseminate information around the whole county and market our programs in a variety of ways to get it out to everyone. We do this through health fairs, posters, fliers, billboards, and also working with community organizations, schools, and work places. It’s a variety of topics, it depends on which topic it is where I want to focus my attention”. Meaning her role is always changing depending on which group she is speaking too.
For example, “If someone needs to know about breastfeeding I can go and speak on that, or give information on poison control, I give talks about sugary drinks to kids”.

On choosing to become a FaHN Organizational Member:
After speaking with Christina, we headed upstairs and I had the opportunity to meet Marc Flindt, the director of the Department of Public Health, he spoke about their decision to become a member with FaHN and said he was, “impressed by (FaHN’s) mission to prevent regional food insecurity”. In addition, he thought the FaHN staff was, “impressive in their knowledge of the issues.” Marc also said that the health department has found, “FaHN’s Regional Food System Assessment extremely useful in various capacities”.