The Mingo County Health Department has only completed the first quarter of the 2019-20 fiscal year, however, preliminary reports show that the facility is on track to break records for its clinical services this year.
Immunizations are one of most widely known services offered by the MCHD. The number of those shots administered by the agency has varied for each of the previous five years, according to data provided by Keith Blankenship, administrator. The department saw its highest numbers last year with 657 shots being given. The 2015 fiscal year showed the second highest numbers with 554 shots and that was followed with 460 shots during FY 2016. During the intervening years, 2017 and 2018 both came in with much lower numbers which averaged 300 shots each.
“This year we are on track to break 1,000 shots,” Blankenship said. “In the first quarter we have given out 302 shots which is just under half of what we did all last year.”
He sees that number rising significantly over the next couple of months as flu shot season gets into full swing. In addition to providing a variety of immunizations in the health department, Blankenship and his staff are conducting flu shot clinics at various senior citizen centers and other locations. In fact, two such clinics were held this week.
“The school district is getting stricter with vaccination policies,” Blankenship said. “Our goal is to get every child in Mingo County immunized.”
Blankenship said he does not know the exact reason why the numbers are as strong as they are this year.
“I think it is a combination of factors,” he said. “We are making ourselves more accessible and we are trying to educate the public about us and the services we offer.”
Blankenship is fairly new to his position. His background is in private business and he is trying to apply the private sector model to the health department as much as possible. He and his staff have been working very hard to redefine the role of the health department to the local community. He is trying to make the health department more attuned to the ramification of customer service.
“In my world customer service was everything. For us at the health department ‘change’ is the key word. We are trying to expand our services and to be relevant to the community,” Blankenship said. “We are working better with the schools. We are working better with CAP. One of the things we have done is to stop providing immunizations on set days. We now offer immunizations and other services every day of the week.
“There are services we do have set days because of the availability of providers,” he continued. “No one coming into the clinic is now just told to come back on another day. If there is a service we have a specific day that is explained to the patient, but we don’t stop there. We talk to them, and give them advice and resources. Before they leave they will have an appointment set up for the service they need.”
MCHD Lead Nurse April Hall, RN, agreed with him.
“We had a girl who attends college come in recently and wanted family planning services,” Hall said. “Those are offered on a specific day. There was no way she could attend one of our clinics because of her schedule. I called several different health departments and found one that offered services when she was available. She left happy because we took a few extra minutes to help her.”
In addition to accessibility and customer service, the health department is attempting to offer its services across its various clinics, Blankenship and Hall said.
“When we have a STD clinic, we try to set up vaccinations for those participating and encourage them to take part in family planning sessions,” Blankenship said. “Many of our services are interrelated to each other. For example, if someone in our family planning clinic wants to become pregnant, it is important for them to have all their vaccinations up to date before that happens.”
Also, while the health department has always offered services for those who are non-insured or underinsured, Blankenship said the agency is now offering services to people with insurance and billing the insurance company.
“Underinsured is somewhat of a vague term with no specific definition,” Blankenship said. “Basically, what it means is that someone may have insurance but copays are too high for them.”
“The way we see it, is that if you cannot pay your copay on the day you try to get service then you are underinsured,” Hall said. “If you are in doubt, come to us. Let us see what we can do.”
The health department offers breast and cervical cancer screenings, TB skin tests and physicals for school, sports and work, Blankenship said. Also in addition to routine childhood immunizations and flu shots, the health department offer vaccinations for shingles, pneumonia, adult Hepatitis A and B, HPV (human papillomavirus) and meningitis.
“We want to foster and develop better relationships with our local businesses. There are many services we can offer that are more cost effective than other programs,” Blankenship said. “We’ll cater to everybody — child and adult, uninsured, underinsured, insured, business — we just want everyone to know the health department is your best friend.”