Thursday, April 7, 2022

LDH highlights work of regional public health offices during National Public Health Week

The Louisiana Department of Health is celebrating National Public Health Week April 4-10, highlighting the importance of community health and the vital role public health professionals serve in making communities healthier. 

Led by Assistant Secretary Kim Hood, the LDH Office of Public Health (OPH) manages the network of public health units in nine regions throughout the state. Local officials and non-profit organizations partner with OPH to make sure the most vulnerable populations have access to the care and support they need.

Studies show poverty and poor health outcomes are closely linked. When faced with financial hardship, people must decide between their daily living expenses versus their health needs. As a result, they are more likely to go without necessary care such as consulting with a doctor or getting a prescription.

These issues are made even worse during a health crisis such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as well as major storms which have hit so many Louisiana parishes. In public health, we know in a disaster that vulnerable people are vulnerable.

LDH's public health teams work closely with parish and local partners to overcome impediments to healthier lives. The Office of Public Health provides free vaccines for COVID-19, flu and other diseases. OPH is also on the frontlines in the preparation and response to natural disasters such as hurricanes and other emergencies. Dedicated public health workers also help keep the food supply safe, ensure the quality of drinking water, provide parents and kids with nutritious foods, and work behind the scenes in many ways to improve and protect health.

Here are some of the ways your Office of Public Health works to keep you safe and healthy.

Regional services

Greater New Orleans (Region 1) is focusing on the totality of health — addressing the social determinants of health and health justice. Region 1 OPH’s efforts utilize community health workers and social workers as conduits between the State and safety-net institutions to shore up hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV prevention and treatment. Region 1 also working closely with Metropolitan Human Services District and other behavioral health entities to provide competent and comprehensive care to all patients or clients who have experienced toxic stress and healthcare inaccessibility.

Throughout the state, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides healthy foods and other support for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or postpartum and infants and children up to age five. Other WIC services include breastfeeding support via live video with lactation consultants who are available 24/7, nutrition education and referrals to other social services. In the Greater Baton Rouge area (Region 2), WIC is now providing additional money to buy fruits and vegetables through September 2022. Region 2’s 11 WIC clinics serve more than 12,000 participants per month.

Many residents in river and coastal parishes (Region 3) continue to strive to overcome the devastation of Hurricane Ida, especially in lower Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. Families remain displaced, and the public health unit serving South Lafourche was significantly damaged. The town of Golden Meadow has generously been providing temporary space for public health services. In addition, Region 3 is implementing the Community Healthways program which provides additional assistance for basic needs including rent and utilities for families coping with hardships, such as those caused by Hurricane Ida.

LDH staff and partners remain active in Acadiana (Region 4) hosting many events and health fairs encouraging COVID-19 testing and vaccinations. Region 4 staff will be working with physicians and nurses in the region to educate moms about the importance of Safe Sleep involving babies with the goal of lowering the instance of sudden unexpected infant death (SUID). With summer approaching, staff will work to educate the community on drowning prevention.

In the Southwest (Region 5), the Office of Public Health is committed to improving the lives of residents still dealing with the devastation of Hurricane Laura on top of ongoing issues like food insecurity and financial hardship. Region 5 Community Health Workers are stationed in parish health units, ready to listen to residents’ concerns and help direct them to helpful resources.

In Central Louisiana (Region 6), OPH staff continue to work to provide communities access to vital healthcare resources. Since 2020, Region 6 teams have tested more than 65,000 people for COVID-19 and have provided immunizations to 55,000 people. Most recently, Region 6 OPH partnered with Sleeves Up Avoyelles to host the Central Louisiana Rural Health Summit, addressing health disparities that disproportionately affect rural communities and provide solutions and resources to target these issues.

In Northwest Louisiana (Region 7), the staff has teamed up with the Women’s Council of Shreveport/Bossier on identifying ways to assist with meeting the health needs of birthing persons and children to cope with pressing issues including mental health, safe sleep and gun violence.

In the Northeast (Region 8), a newly formed health disparities team’s main goal is to develop programs that promote equitable health outcomes for those who are most vulnerable. Another key focus in Region 8 is fighting the opioid crisis, including partnering with other state and community partners to create the first Opioid Substance Use Recovery Coalition to help communities that are especially impacted.

In the Florida and Northshore parishes (Region 9), LDH teams are focused on serving women, infants and children in Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes through the WIC Program. Parish health units in Livingston, Amite, Hammond, Bogalusa, Franklinton and Slidell provide assistance to breastfeeding mothers with prenatal breastfeeding education support, breastfeeding education, healthy WIC food packages, peer counseling, breast pump support (free hospital grade pumps and personal electric pumps), consultations with certified lactation consultants and lactation rooms at most WIC sites.