By Jordan Cohen
NILES — The director of the Ohio Department of Health listened Thursday as members of the city health department talked about the problems they face providing public health services in a tight economy.
“We are trying to do things more efficiently and looking for a partnership to save money,” said Dr. Alvin Jackson, ODH director.
Jackson said he is meeting with all 130 public health departments in Ohio. He said Niles’ is the 101st he has visited.
The state health director said he wanted candid responses about health concerns in Niles, and department members did not hesitate to voice them.
“We have seasonal-flu vaccines for children that are just sitting there and going to expire,” said Kathy Salapata, one of two registered nurses in the Niles Health Department. “Why can’t [they] be used for the older population?”
Jackson said the vaccines were issued under a federal program that limits their use to children. Salapata explained that the city did not receive those vaccines till early this year, which is later in the flu season than most people get their inoculations. She said she offered the excess to other health departments, but none offered to take them.
“That’s the first time this has happened,” responded Jackson. “We usually hear complaints that there aren’t enough vaccines”
Salapata also said the Niles department received conflicting advice from the state over delivery and usage of the H1N1-flu vaccine.
“It didn’t seem like the left hand knew what the right hand was doing,” Salapata said, even though she and Michael Burke, Niles health director, emphasized that the state in most cases has been helpful.
Jackson said he is hoping to eliminate such communication problems by upgrading Ohio’s data and technology. “We’re way behind,” he acknowledged.
In addition, the director said he faces numerous statewide health issues such as infant mortality and childhood obesity, which he called “an epidemic.”
“If we do not intervene, this will be the first generation that will not live as long as their parents,” Jackson warned.
The health director was accompanied by Joseph Mazzola, the newly appointed local health-department liaison. Jackson said Mazzola’s responsibility will be to follow up individually with Niles and all of the state’s public health departments.
“We’re like a marriage where we can’t have a divorce, so we have to find a way to make it work,” Jackson said.