The need for a new building for the local health department was the main topic of discussion at Tuesday’s health council meeting.
Southeast Regional Health Director Glenn Czarnecki said the current building was built in 1979 and has seemed to become smaller and smaller each year as more and more patients have taken advantage of the health care services offered there.
“We do very well with the facility that we have, but it is challenging,” Czarnecki said.
The staff does a good job, he added, but they’re dealing with increasingly cramped space as the county’s population — and the number of patients — grows.
He said all this has been taking place in the building that houses the largest county health department in a 10-county region, one that has as of late seen between 30,000 to 35,000 different patients each year.
Czarnecki said he believed the national Affordable Care Act, which is expected to add to the number of lower-income people with health insurance next year, would not lessen the number of people using the facility.
Waters said the staff is already trying its best to use the current space efficiently.
“Every little nook and cranny is used,” Waters said.
The building currently makes up 17,000 square feet of space, while Czarnecki said he has seen buildings of 30,000 square feet and more in counties smaller than Bradley.
Funding for new health department buildings has typically come in part from grants and other similar sources, but Czarnecki said “a large chunk” usually has to come from the county’s government.
“I think we’d be looking at a $4 to 5 million investment,” he said of the total estimated cost for a building of the size desired.
Both Czarnecki and Waters encouraged the health council to “recognize the need” and “be a voice” for the cause of having a new health department building constructed. They have already begun looking at architectural sketches used to build other health departments to see what might work in Bradley County.
Health council member Beth Delaney also presented statistics that she said prove entities like the health department need further resources if they are to continue to help people in the community better their health. She shared the latest numbers from the county health rankings compiled by the University of Wisconsin.
According to those figures, Bradley County ranks higher than the national average in several negative health behaviors. Some 22 percent of Bradley County residents smoke as opposed to the 13 percent of Americans in general, and 29 as opposed to 25 percent are obese. Some 327 per 100,000 people in Bradley County had a sexually transmitted infection, compared to 92 out of 100,000 nationally. In addition, 49 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 had been pregnant, compared to 21 out of 1,000 nationally.
The study also measured things like the ratio of dentists to patients in the county, the number of preventable hospital stays and the number of people receiving tests such as diabetes screenings.
Delaney said those numbers confirmed the need to make sure good health care is available in Bradley County.
Prior to the discussion over the health department, representatives from the local Boys & Girls Clubs shared how they had recently used money from a $10,000 grant meant to help prevent diabetes. The staff of the James Tucker Unit on 3rd Street has installed a new climbing wall, monkey bars and a running trail in an effort to help the kids who frequent the facility become more physically active. Pieces of sports equipment like basketballs and jump ropes were also provided to all the other Cleveland area units.
The health council is comprised of members who are involved in providing health care or community services to local residents. It meets monthly at SkyRidge Medical Center.