Health department here to help everyone

December 2, 2018

One of the common misconceptions about the Kankakee County Health Department is the thought that you have to be poor to use it.

“That’s not the case,” said administrator John Bevis. “There are some programs that are income-based, but there are many others that serve everybody, everything from water samples to complaints about high weeds to garbage in the yard.”The department helps people with a wide range of health issues, including checking a septic system. Of course, Bevis said, not everyone follows advice.

“You can tell people it’s not a good idea to put a pool on top of their septic tank, but they might do it anyway.”

Bevis works with 34 employees at the health department, which is located at 2390 W. Station, Kankakee. Open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, the department has an annual budget of $2.58 million, Bevis said.

He estimates about 22,000 individuals have been directly helped by health department programs in the past year. Indirectly, everyone is helped “when you think of things like food inspections,” Bevis said.

Think asked Bevis about a variety of public health issues. The questions were posed by Phil Angelo. Both edited for length and continuity.

Do you offer flu shots? Do most people get their shots? Or do a lot of people who need them never get them?

About 30 percent of people in Kankakee County get their shots. That’s less than the 40 percent statewide. We administered 625 flu shots and 430 pneumonia shots. We encourage people to get the shots.

Immunizations have sort of gotten a bad rap. Are people avoiding immunizations? Should they?

There is a lot of bad information on the internet about immunizations. There is a real danger if enough people do not get immunized some diseases will make a resurgence. Our department administered 1,650 immunizations.

Some people are afraid of immunizations. For some, it is a religious issue. Some just have some misconceptions that need to be cleared up.

We live in a community that has a lot of older buildings. How serious is lead contamination? What should people look for?

Anything built before 1970 is likely to have some lead paint in it. It is a greater problem if the building has deteriorated. Children younger than 6 are especially at risk because those are the years when children put everything in their mouths.

There are corrective actions that can be taken, especially the removal and replacement of windows and door frames. One of the things to look for is a pattern of little crosshatches in the paint.

The same is true for mold. What should people look for?

We get a lot of calls about mold. If your house has been flooded, you need to get it checked. You have to ask what is causing the mold. If there is a source of water, you need to eliminate the water source. There are a lot of commercial firms that do a good job with this problem.

West Nile virus scares people. What can people do to spot a problem? How can they stay safe?

It’s here, and we want to warn everyone. You get it by being bitten by a mosquito. You get flu-like symptoms. It can become fatal if you have other health problems.

You want to take precautions. Use bug spray. But it is like the seat belt law or using a motorcycle helmet; it is hard to get 100 percent compliance.

You offer HIV and STD testing. Is that on the rise? Are people practicing safe sex? Are today’s teens more savvy about this than past generations?

We don’t know if more people are practicing safe sex. We do know we are seeing a rise in chlamydia and gonorrhea, and more than half of the increase is coming in the age range of 15 to 25.

How is the health department working on the opioid epidemic?

We offer free training on the administration of Narcan. (Training can be scheduled by calling Lindsay Wilson at 815-802-9396.) We want people to understand the symptoms of an overdose and to be able to administer Narcan. It is a simple nasal spray. There was a $225,000 grant to pay for treatment last year and another grant of the same amount this year. Hopefully, there will be more grants in the future. Eventually, we have to help people kick the habit.

I know you do restaurant inspections. How do we do as a community when it comes to serving safe food?

We have 650 food outlets that are licensed and inspected. That’s a lot. I once was told Kankakee County is in the top 10 percent when it comes to restaurants per population. In this community, whenever a restaurant closes, someone usually opens up in the same place.

No one wants to close a restaurant down. What we are trying to do is to educate the staff. Health departments are moving away from a score on a firm and moving toward a risk-based assessment.

There was a controversy about a new state law, called a cupcake law, that would have allowed more small home-based food businesses. Was this a bad idea?

It was called the Home Rule Kitchen Act. It would apply to people selling less than $1,000 per month of food out of their own kitchen. It was narrowly defeated by the Kankakee County Board, and I spoke against it. It’s just not a good idea. If you go to a restaurant they are inspected, but here you are buying from a place we have no way of inspecting.

And who monitors the $1,000 month threshold? In a restaurant, you see the issue, and it can be corrected. Here, the person might be a hoarder with 10 cats.

What other public health issues should we discuss?

There is a new program, Adverse Childhood Events, that will provide help for children who have had trauma in their childhoods. This includes families of divorce, where parents are in prison, where there has been domestic violence, drug abuse or child abuse. We know as a result of these traumas children have health risks. If we can help these children, they will have better health later on.

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