Public Health Employees Fulfill Their Mission

The mission of the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) is to promote, protect, and improve the health of individuals and communities in Alabama. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our public health employees for the work they do each day to promote and protect Alabamians from disease, injury, and other threats, and to improve the health of Alabamians. Many people do not consider their roles important until a crisis such as a deadly pandemic captures our attention.

During the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, many public health employees worked long hours every day, doing demanding work, sometimes outdoors in extreme heat and cold, screening members of their communities for COVID-19, performing testing, and giving immunizations. For some, their only time free from work responsibilities was on Christmas Day. Resilience and bravery despite insults and threats have been common, but the pandemic is not a singular event. Natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes often call public health to action.

Every day, ADPH teams in all 67 counties and at the state level work to keep people healthy and safe by preventing disease and injury. Registered nurses and nurse practitioners, with the support of licensed practical nurses and nursing assistants, provide patient care at county health departments.

Childhood immunizations are among the most well-known activities of ADPH. Immunizations and a host of other services are also provided to adults, along with confidential testing, treatment, counseling, partner referral, and epidemiologic investigations for infectious communicable diseases. These include sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and tuberculosis. Services are provided regardless of social circumstances or the ability to pay, and strategies address communities at highest risk. Epidemiologists provide support for data-driven decision-making in a variety of programs.

Access to healthy food and quality healthcare helps lead to healthier mothers, babies, and families. Each year through WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, more than 100,000 limited-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women, infants, and children up to age 5 in Alabama receive a nutrition assessment, education, and nutritious foods at no cost. Alabama’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, managed by ADPH employees, increases access to healthcare for eligible, uninsured children ages birth through 18. Confidential and professional family planning services are offered to prevent unintended pregnancies through education and contraceptive services.

Public health environmentalists help provide safe living and working environments by ensuring standards in services that protect the public from the spread of disease. Environmentalists inspect restaurants, schools, and other food service and lodging establishments, including childcare centers, to ensure health standards are maintained. The members of this team provide professional training and certification of food service employees about sanitation practices that prevent foodborne illnesses. They conduct onsite sewage disposal inspections to oversee treatment and disposal of septage and other permitted wastes and handle calls about bacterial contamination and sampling of individual residential wells. In addition, they investigate reports of possible rabies exposures from animal bites.

Home care programs offer skilled nursing, physical therapy, medical social work, and home health aide services in addition to a remote patient monitoring program in some counties. Licensed public health social workers provide case management and care coordination for home health and other needs.

Protecting patients and residents of healthcare facilities from abuse and neglect is among the regulatory activities of the department. Employees work to ensure facilities comply with state and federal standards and require corrective action when services find facilities are non-compliant. The department also assures that emergency medical services meet or exceed established standards.

The Bureau of Clinical Laboratories performs testing and provides laboratory results for maternity, family planning, newborn screening, child health, infectious diseases, and environmental services. Newborn screening detects genetic or metabolic conditions, thereby reducing premature death, intellectual, and other developmental disabilities through early detection and follow-up. Breast and cervical cancer screening services are provided to uninsured and underinsured women ages 40 through 64.

Health educators work to modify behavior to prevent and manage chronic diseases and prevent injuries by encouraging responsible behavior. For example, a tobacco Quitline is offered free to Alabama residents. Quitline calls, coaching, and nicotine patches are free to help tobacco users quit.

Oral health efforts address its connection to overall health, assess needs of kindergarten and third-grade students, and educate the public about oral health care. Additional efforts include promotion of the FDA-approved HPV vaccine to prevent oral cancer.

Public health regulates the possession, use, and disposal of radioactive materials and equipment, and administers a radon and naturally occurring radioactive materials program.

County health departments issue certified copies of Alabama birth, death, marriage, and divorce certificates, regardless of where in the state the event occurred.

These are just a few highlights about the many services the 2,500 caring and dedicated public health employees provide for our state. As a result of their efforts, public health programs enhance and lengthen lives and strengthen Alabama communities. I hope you will join me in commending the public health workforce for fulfilling their important mission and wish them continued success in facing challenges in the years to come.

Scott Harris, M.D., M.P.H.
State Health Officer