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Health department offers much with less

May 13, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- The Morgan County Health Department has a full plate and a stretched budget, but it continues to serve the needs of county residents.

It offers a variety of services for the public, but does not have a medical doctor in the department for walk-in problems. People are referred to local physicians or to War Memorial Hospital for emergency services, said Lee Fowler, the department administrator.

Receptionist Beverly Day is the first person you see when you walk into the health department office. She has worked for the department for 17 years.

On the wall next to Day's window, a sign reads: Services will NOT be denied because of inability to pay.

A woman with a baby on her hip asks about immunizations for her child. She tells Day she lost her full-time job and her insurance coverage along with it. She was working part time and asked what the cost would be for shots. Day told her the cost was $14 for the first shot and $5 for each additional one.

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Day said the health department charges on a sliding scale for different programs.

In addition to immunizations, other services include testing blood pressure and blood sugar. Its breast and cervical cancer screening program offers breast exams, pelvic exams and mammograms for eligible women. The department's family planning program provides pregnancy tests, free contraceptive methods, and health education and counseling.

Fowler said even before the outbreak of swine flu, more people "come to us for guidance. Some people don't trust hospitals or doctors."

The health department has seen a growth in the services in "family planning, breast and cervical screening has increased and in immunizations, especially children," Fowler said.

Eight people work in the department, he said. Angel Bloom is a registered nurse, and Mary Hook, the threat preparedness coordinator, is a licensed practical nurse.

People come in for medical advice, and we "make recommendations, but there is no charge," Fowler said.

It is operating with less money, too, since the building boom has waned. Well and septic permits that are handled by the department's environmental section brought in funds, but that has diminished.

Also, state funding was cut by $5,000 this year, Fowler said, and instead of $12,000 funding for pandemics, the counties received nothing. Grants that looked promising were not secured this year, he said.

Fowler said he had requested help from the Morgan County Commission, which approved funding $35,000 so far this year to the health department.

In a recent commission meeting, more funds will be given, if possible, at the end of the fiscal year in June, Commission President Brenda J. Hutchinson said.

Fowler is in his second year as administrator and says it's a rewarding job. "I enjoy the people who work here and the support of the community," he said.

He said if he had the budget to do the things the department needs, he would like to create a dental program with preventative care services. Part of it would include area dentists getting together to perform free services for one day as Berkeley County did last year. 

The second idea is the creation of a childhood obesity program at the health department. Education would be part of it and would involve the children, the parents, the schools and the lunch program.

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