What is Public Health?

By Scott Lenhart, Director | Pamlico County Health Department

BAYBORO — With the recent issues concerning the Pamlico County Health Department, I feel it is necessary to inform the public on what we actually do in public health.  Over the last several years, for whatever reason, public health has been forgotten by many in Pamlico County.  So, I ask you all one simple question: What does public health mean to you?

Many individuals have no idea what is public health or what public health does for them or the community.  Living in North Carolina for 40 years — 21 of those years on the coast of North Carolina — I can say, many individuals from the coast to the mountains cannot tell you what public health does, or means to them. Nor are they aware of programs and services  available in their own counties.

I arrived in Pamlico County in November 2016 and when individuals learned I was the new health director one thing I heard over and over again was “WE HAVE A HEALTH DEPARTMENT?” Where is it?  This statement told me a lot about public health in Pamlico County. So, what is public health?  Basically, the definition according to Merrion Webster Dictionary is “the art and science dealing with the protection and improvement of community health by organized community efforts, including preventive medicine and sanitary and social science”.

The Center for Disease Control says: “Public health is the science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases”.

There is a very good example of the history of public health in Oriental. On  South Avenue, there is a historical marker for a now-dormant Community Well that many individuals used for their water source early in the development of the village of Oriental.

Today local health departments oversee the installation of private wells. If you like history and want to learn more about the early beginnings of public health, read about the father of modern epidemiology; Dr. John Snow, because of his work in tracing the source of a cholera outbreak in 1854 in London, England.

Public health employees are many types of professionals ranging from Doctors, Dentists, Administrators, Nurses, Mid-Level providers, Environmental Health Specialists, Epidemiologists, billing and medical records administrators, lab technicians, medical assistances and many others.

Public health has a very board range of programs, which provides many services to all citizens.  Some examples of these programs that you may be familiar with are immunization, communicable diseases, HIV/STD program, family planning/adult health, community outreach, Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program, Dental programs, Tuberculosis programs, Women with Infant Children (also known as WIC).

In addition, public health also oversees on-site waste water (septic tank installation), well installation, restaurant inspections, daycare inspections, food and lodging inspections and many more.

Among health departments throughout North Carolina, there are a variety of differences. However, one thing the departments have in common: We must all follow North General Statutes 130A and the North Carolina Administrative Code Title 10A, which outlines the rules and regulations for Public Health:

NC General Statutes 130A mandates local health departments to ensure the following services are available:

(1) Preventing health risks and disease;
(2) Identifying and reducing health risks in the community;
(3) Detecting, investigating, and preventing the spread of disease;
(4) Promoting healthy lifestyles;
(5) Promoting a safe and healthful environment;
(6) Promoting the availability and accessibility of quality health care services through the

      private sector; and
(7) Providing quality health care services when not otherwise available.

Public Health Core Functions

The Pamlico County Health Department works to ensure the core functions of the 10 Essential Public Health Services are carried out to fulfill the mission of public health within Pamlico County. The 10 Essential Public Health Services are:

Monitor health

Diagnose and investigate

Information, educate and empowerment

Mobilize community partnerships

Develop policies

Enforcement of public health law

Link people to provider care

Assure competent workforce



Emergency Preparedness and Response has recently been added to the core functions of Public Health.

Mandated Services as stated in the state’s Administrative Code

The following is a list of mandated services required to be provided in every county of this state. The local health department shall provide, or ensure the provision of,  these services in accordance with the rules in this Section:

(1) Adult Health;

(2) Home Health;

(3) Dental Public Health;

(4) Food, Lodging and Institutional Sanitation;

(5) Individual On-Site Water Supply;

(6) Sanitary Sewage Collection, Treatment and Disposal;

(7) Communicable Disease Control;

(8) Vital Records Registration;

(9) Maternal Health;

(10) Child Health;

(11) Family Planning;

(12) Public Health Laboratory Support.

In future issues of the County Compass,  I want to introduce the county to our public health programs and what services we currently offer.  In addition, I want you to meet the staff of our health department.  Next time:  “The Roles and Responsibility of Environment Health”

If you would like someone to come to your church, community organization or meetings to learn more about what we do in public health for Pamlico County, please contact Scott Lenhart at Pamlico County Health Department 745-3734, or email at scott.lenhart@pamlicocounty.org.

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