Health department report indicates improvements

HANCOCK – The 2012 annual report for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department was released last week, and according to WUPHHealthOfficer/Executive officer Guy St. Germain it shows some progress for the agency, but it also shows there are still some health issues residents need to work on.

St. Germain said the annual report is a requirement of the health department.

“It’s part of our obligation so all of our residents are aware of what their health department does,” he said. “The 2012 year was tremendously satisfying for the health department.”

Much of that satisfaction for health department officials had to do with a restructuring of the agency to get back to financial stability, St. Germain said. In 2011, for financial reasons the health department’s Superior Home Health and Hospice was eliminated. Because of the loss of revenue from the elimination of that service, the agency went through a downsizing and restructuring, which led to a return to financial stability in 2012.

Part of the restructuring at the health department included the creation of a human papillomavirus outreach effort with the Michigan Cancer Consortium, which St. Germain said is needed especially in the health department coverage area of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties.

“Currently, only 5 percent of kids in our area have received one dose of HPV vaccine,” he said.

Health officials urge parents of children 11 and 12 years old to have their children vaccinated against HPV, which has been linked to almost all cervical cancers, and many other cancers in both males and females, including head, neck and genital cancers.

The outreach for HPV in the U.P. is unique to the WUPHD, St. Germain said, and few others in the state have a similar effort.

“Not all health departments are doing this,” he said.

St. Germain said another effort the health department began in 2012 was the Comprehensive Approach to Childhood Health in the U.P., or CATCH-UP, which involves a health and wellness program at nine after-school sites with 800 children involved. The program teaches about proper nutrition and the need for regular exercise with the goal of reducing childhood obesity using research-based curriculum.

“No one else is doing that,” he said. “We want to promote lifelong healthy habits among the children.”

In addition to its regular beach monitoring program, St. Germain said with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the health department’s environmental health division is involved with a program called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which involves investigation of why certain beaches with high levels of e. coli bacteria. Having that information can help the health department know ahead of time when those beaches may be susceptible to excessive growth of the bacteria, which will allow preemptive closing of the beaches.

Between 2011 and 2012, there was a jump from 18 to 36 reportable cases of food-borne illness, but St. Germain said the increase was due to illnesses contracted at private functions, such as picnics and parties. There was no increase in the number of reported cases of food-borne illnesses at restaurants in 2012.

One other troubling aspect from the annual report is the fact childhood immunizations in the health department’s coverage area is at just 30 percent, which is below the state average, which in turn is lower than health officials think it should be.

“We should see 90 percent,” he said.

The low number of children being immunized is probably due to the fact many parents are worried about the safety of vaccines.

“We still have too many people concerned about immunizations,” he said.

Obesity in both adults and children is still at too high a level in the health department coverage area, St. Germain said. There is still too much tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking, also.

A technological changed made at the health department involves going completely to digital record keeping, St. Germain said.

“We converted from our paper charts,” he said.

The complete 2012 Western Upper Peninsula Health Department annual report can be viewed online at

St. Germain said he is very pleased with the results from the changes made at the health department last year, and expects more improvement this year.

“That’s all a huge credit to a tremendously competent board and all our employees,” he said.