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Health Department Honors Efforts to Reduce Spread of Whooping Cough and Improve Emergency Preparedness with 2013 Awards of Excellence in Public Health

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Prevention and planning are cornerstones of public health practice, though these functions are often overlooked because, when successful, something bad does not happen. The efforts of two individuals to prevent a whooping cough outbreak and better plan for disasters are noteworthy accomplishments to improve health in Northern Kentucky, and are being recognized with the 2013 Award of Excellence in Public Health.

Christina Rust, a maternal child educator with St. Elizabeth Healthcare, has been instrumental in developing a program to immunize family members of infants against pertussis, or whooping cough. The program is an important measure to curb a rising number of cases of whooping cough in Northern Kentucky: Whooping cough causes the most serious complications in infants, who are unable to be immunized themselves. Recent data shows that 75 percent of infants infected with whooping cough were exposed by a family member. Under the program that Rust helped create, more than 3,800 mothers and more than 4,000 family members have received the vaccine, thus protecting those infants they come in contact with.

Rust will receive her award at a St. Elizabeth Healthcare staff meeting to be held later this summer.

“The infant cocooning program is a fabulous example of how, when the end goal is such a vital issue, as is saving infant’s lives, and the right person is charged with leading the effort, results will follow,” said Saddler. “Chris Rust has made it her mission to protect Northern Kentucky’s smallest residents from whooping cough, and she worked diligently with her colleagues at St. Elizabeth to develop a brand new system to vaccinate the non-patient family members, taking in account everything from electronic health records to standing orders to consent. While this program has built momentum, we recently learned that future of it is uncertain. We hope to keep this successful and beneficial program in place.”

Mark Ihrig, Director of Boone County Emergency Management, has long stood by the side of the Health Department as it works to improve its disaster planning and response capabilities. He has continuously encouraged and supported the Health Department with training initiatives, in the development and implementation of disaster exercises and drills, in the review of the Health Department’s own disaster response plans, and in building support for the needs of health professionals within the wider scale of disaster response.

Ihrig will receive his award during the regional health care disaster planning work group meeting, at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 16, at the Health Department’s District Office, 610 Medical Village Drive, Edgewood, Ky.  Saddler and Barbara Yates of the Kentucky Department for Public Health’s preparedness branch are scheduled to present his award.

“Mark is constantly striving to enhance the level of disaster preparedness and response for Boone County while assuring capabilities are in place in the region as a whole to effectively respond to a disaster,” said Saddler. “The public health and medical response aspects of an emergency or disaster are especially significant. Realizing this, Mark has bestowed to the Health Department his experience, knowledge, and deep-seated community dedication which have been invaluable,” said Saddler.

The awards are presented each spring to honor those people in Northern Kentucky who have shown progress toward achieving and maintaining a healthier community. Winners are nominated and selected by the Health Department staff for work done in collaboration with the Health Department. The awards were first presented in 2000. For more information, please visit http://www.nkyhealth.org/awards.

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Media representatives should contact Emily Gresham Wherle at 859.344.5470 or Emily.Gresham-Wherle@nkyhealth.org, about any request or information before calling any other Health Department employee. Your calls and requests will be handled expediently with your deadlines in mind. Thank you for your interest and support in educating the community about public health issues.

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