Public Health Week points up services for all

For Public Health Week, the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department is reminding residents in the region of the services it and other agencies can provide.

“There is a common belief that public health’s role is to provide health care for low-income people. But the truth is that public health is actually the only part of the healthcare system that targets all people within a community,” the DIDHD stated in a press release marking the week, which runs through Saturday.

Some of the services that can be considered public health include surveillance for infectious diseases, health education, immunizations; ensuring safe well water and septic systems, offering nutrition programs for pregnant women and children, providing reproductive health services, helping to ensure food safety and what DIDHD termed “myriad other programs.”

“Essentially everyone in a community,” DIDHD states, “benefits from public health services in some way.”

It credits that effort, along with hospitals and high-tech advances in care, with raising the life expectancy in the United States by 62 percent in the past century, from 47.3 years to 76.8 years.

Immunizations, prevention and control of infectious diseases, advances in maternal and infant health, family planning, cancer prevention, occupational and motor vehicle safety, tobacco prevention, air and water quality protection and improvements — all are public health efforts that figure into a longer and better life.

But now is not the time to become complacent or figure that work is done, DIDHD said.

“The evidence is abundant that prevention is the least expensive and most effective way to secure the health of a population” the agency states, “and yet prevention efforts are traditionally poorly funded. In fact, the U.S. government spends only about 3 percent of its health care dollars on public health. If we, as a society, want to continue the gains made in life expectancy and quality of life that have been seen over the last century, we will need to rethink how we invest our limited resources. Is it better to invest in preventing disease or focus, as we currently do, almost entirely on its treatment?”

That answer would seem clear. It’s been demonstrated through numerous studies and analysis that preventative care is less expensive than waiting until something has gone wrong; health insurance companies now often cover such screenings as mammograms and colonoscopies with little to no co-pay in recognition it saves money to catch potential problems early.

Hopefully the government will recognize as well that cuts in the most basic of aspects of health care may be penny-wise and pounds-foolish. Persuading the most vulnerable in the population to avoid being checked until they have a problem severe enough to warrant calling an ambulance or showing up in an emergency room is a recipe for high-cost health care.

It’s the old television commercial on automobile maintenance that warns, “You can pay me now or pay me later.”

For questions or public health program information, call the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department at 906-774-1868 or 906-265-9913.

“When public health does its job well, it becomes almost invisible to the public,” the DIDHD advised. “This week-long celebration of public health is meant to remind all of us about the safeguards that need to be in place and the on-going work being done to keep our communities healthy.”