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More than just flu shots

North Shore Health Department provides wide array of services

Feb. 6, 2012

It's larger, but the mission of the North Shore Health Department remains the same: providing a vast array of preventive health services and initiatives to residents in Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, Glendale, River Hills and, as of Jan. 1, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay.

"If you don't hear about us, we are doing a good job," said Jamie Berg, director of the department.

Many of the activities done by the nurses and sanitarians in the department are required by state law.

Berg, who was interim director of the North Shore and Shorewood/Whitefish Bay health departments after the retirements of the previous leaders, said she hopes to do more marketing to increase public awareness of the department.

Getting the message out

She has blue Health Department reusable bags ready to hand out at local farmers markets and other venues this year as part of that effort.

She also hopes to continue to build and strengthen community partnerships, such as the recent grant the NSHD received for car seat installations.

"We are sending a nurse and the Fire Department is sending two firefighters for training," Berg said. "The NSFD has scheduling software and we will have access to that to help with scheduling."

The transition from two departments to one, as well as one vacant full-time nursing position that Berg hopes to fill soon, has made for a hectic start of the year.

The department will maintain two offices, in Brown Deer and Shorewood.

Shorewood is high-traffic

"Shorewood gets more walk in traffic," Berg said, noting that its location in the Village Center, home of the Senior Resource Center and the Shorewood Library, helps drive traffic.

Brown Deer has been the headquarters for the department for many years.

Nursing Supervisor Ann Brandstrom will always be in Brown Deer, while public health nurse Kathleen Demian will always be in Shorewood.

"They each know those communities and will be able to maintain that relationship," Berg said.

Since consolidation, clients for the various vaccine clinics are being asked to make appointments.

"It allows for better planning of staff time and the proper amount of vaccine at the correct location," Berg said.

When people make appointments, it allows staff to look up their history in the immunization registry, find out what is due and talk to the client.

"If appointments don't work for people, we have one North Shore clinic in Glendale without appointments," Berg said, adding that the nurses would also vaccinate people without appointments at other clinics, but that could involve a waiting period.

Department staff touch residents lives in other ways, both expected and unexpected.

They hold other clinics, checking blood pressure and cholesterol. They test the lake water at Doctors, Atwater and Klode parks for bacteria, quarantine animals and test for rabies, and work on regional planning for emergency preparedness for a natural disaster, an outbreak of a disease or an emergency caused by human error or malice.

Registered Sanitarian Brad Simerly inspects and licenses all food merchants, restaurants, swimming pools and hotels in the entire North Shore except for Glendale, which has its own part-time sanitarian.

"If you sell chips and candy bars, we have to inspect," Berg said.

It may be no surprise considering all the flooding in the North Shore since the mid 1990s, but the staff can and does answer questions about mold.

Bedbug class coming up

Also, the department plans to offer a class in March on how to treat for bedbugs.

"We are the information base for health concerns," Berg said. "Bedbugs are now through out the community."

The class will offer various tips.

"If you are traveling and staying in hotels, you should always keep your luggage in the bathroom," Berg said.

Residents can bring bedbugs to the department for help in making the identification.

"They must be in a sealed container," Berg said. "I am very good at identifying them."

The department works with the local police departments when they have complaints about compost piles or dog feces. The department does the investigation, the police handle citations if they become necessary.

"The majority of dog 'dirt' is at private residences where they are not cleaning up their yards as often as they should," Berg said.

Other services offered

They do home visits for newborns, the elderly and, in some cases, certain communicable diseases such as pertussis. They test mosquito larvae for West Nile disease, have inexpensive kits for radon testing, provide health consultations for schools and day cares as well as residents with health question, provide free mammograms and Pap smears for eligible women through a state grant and help determine the current vaccine requirements for travel abroad.

They also test for lead poisoning and have a HEPA vacuum for public rental. It is used for clean up if a remodeling project disturbs lead paint.

Increasingly, Berg said, they are helping residents find health care.

"We are getting more and more phone calls from people without health insurance who are looking for places to go for care," she said. "We don't diagnose here but we try to help them find care."

North Shore Vital Statistics

623 - births; Whitefish Bay led the way with 164 followed by Brown Deer with 133.

357 - deaths; Glendale, with more nursing facilities than other North Shore communities, had 136, followed by Shorewood with 52. Thirteen percent died before age 75. The leading causes of death were heart disease (14 percent), cancer (9 percent) and dementia (4 percent).

2011 combined North Shore and Shorewood/Whitefish Bay services

346 - disease investigations

284 - disease cases; nurses make at least two contacts for each person diagnosed with a reportable disease. Only diseases diagnosed by a doctor are counted as a case.

682 - immunizations

323 - cholesterol/blood pressure checks

230 - food licenses issued

50 - swimming pool licenses issued

507 - inspections and re-inspections, inspections for temporary event food sales, such as Fourth of July or farmers market, and investigations because of complaints. Glendale has a sanitarian; its numbers are not included.

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