This is Public Health
If you didn’t know about Public Health before the COVID-19 pandemic, you certainly do now. Typically running pretty silently in the background like antivirus software, Public Health was thrust into the spotlight over the past year and a half. Now public health terms like “contact tracing,” “herd immunity,” and “epidemiology” are part of our everyday language. You’ve seen and heard about our work to control the spread of COVID-19; from interviewing people who tested positive and reaching out to their close contacts, doing COVID-19 testing at the Alliant Energy Center, to providing COVID-19 vaccines at Alliant and at pop up sites all over the county.
But what does our everyday, non-pandemic work look like and how does it help protect you, your family, and the environment?
Healthy people. Healthy places.
We have a staff of about 160 people (during non-pandemic times) that serves more than 540,000 people in the 60+ cities, villages, and towns across Dane County. Among our staff are nurses, sanitarians, policy analysts, animal control officers, epidemiologists, dietitians, health educators, interpreters, administrators, and more. While our staff represent many professional backgrounds and the breadth of our work is wide, we’re all working together toward one common goal: Healthy people and healthy places.
Working with the community, for everyone in the community.
Most of the time the work we do isn’t publicized much until there’s a crisis like a foodborne illness, environmental hazard, or a pandemic.
Our work essentially breaks down into three main categories: protecting your health, protecting the health of our environment, and working with community partners to address and prevent health inequities.
Providing health care services to keep you and your family healthy
At this point, you probably know that Public Health does things like give free immunizations and respond to outbreaks of diseases. We do that and a whole lot more. Need screening and treatment for a sexually transmitted infection? Are you pregnant or breastfeeding and need some support? Have young children and need some healthy foods to supplement your diet? We’ve got you covered. And you can always stop into our offices to pick up free condoms, new syringes, and safer injecting equipment.
We provide most of these services for free, on a sliding-fee scale, or to people who qualify financially.
And we provide them regardless of race, color, gender/gender expression, ability, religion, sexual orientation, or place of birth/place of residence. We do not require citizenship and we serve anyone who lives in or visits Madison and Dane County.
Preventing injury and illness where you live, learn, work, and play
When you think about how we work to protect the environment, monitoring the water quality at our beaches may spring to mind. And yes, we do test the water at local beaches and let you know when it’s not safe for swimming. We also investigate reports of waste being dumped into gutters and storm sewers, which can pollute the lakes and rivers you swim and play in. But there’s more! When you go out to eat, you can know your food is safe because we inspect restaurants to be sure they’re handling food safely. If you’re bitten by an animal, we’ll be there to help you through finding the animal and figuring out if you need to be concerned about rabies. You may even see us around the county, permitting wells or septic systems, or sampling water to look for mosquitoes that carry diseases that can make you sick.
Doing the long-term work of changing systems to improve the health of all
Things like safe housing, transportation, racism, education, and job opportunities can impact health outcomes and quality of life that many of us take for granted. We work with community partners in the long-term work of changing systems so that more people have a chance to live healthy, fulfilling lives. We’re addressing risk factors of violence and building on protective efforts against it. We’re working in partnership to create policies that increase access to healthy food. And we’re collaborating to identify solutions to issues like racial disparities in birth outcomes and the inequities that contribute to these outcomes.
Take a deeper dive into our work
So now you’ve gotten a general overview of what the work of public health is. While it includes responding to emergencies and pandemics, it also includes many things we all take for granted, like clean air and water, food that’s safe to eat, and being free of injury and disease.
Want a deeper dive? Subscribe to our email list above and stay tuned for a whole blog series to come where we feature a day in the life of different staffers who’ll show you their work!