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Officials say Carson’s health needs shot in arm

Jill Lufrano

With statistics that show the highest percentage of women who smoke, the highest percentage of mothers with late or no prenatal care and suicide being the leading cause of death for teens and young adults, Carson City’s health problems are causing heartburn for some officials.

The capital city, in fact, has some of the worst health indicators in the nation, officials said Friday. In 2001, the city had a higher hospital admission rate for flu and pneumonia, diabetes, cancer and heart disease than the state average.

That same year, the city also had a higher percentage of female smokers, heavy alcohol consumers, “couch potatoes” who did little physical activity and more people who went without checking their cholesterol than any other county in the state.

Teen pregnancy numbers are also higher in Carson City than anywhere else in the state, which ranks second only to Mississippi as the worst in the nation.

City leaders and health officials want to address the city’s health problems by forming a county health board.

“It’s about the opportunity for the community to involve itself in healthy issues,” said City Supervisor Pete Livermore.

City leaders will decide Thursday whether to officially form a Carson City Health Board, made up of the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff and the county health officer.

By creating the board, the city will open itself up to state, federal and private funding to pay for education programs for issues like HIV awareness, bioterrorism preparedness, communicable disease prevention and teen pregnancy.

“It’s a big decision,” Livermore said. “It’s a decision that we need to take control of our public health.”

If supervisors approve of the idea, the state health division has agreed in principle to provide additional funding to continue the planning and implementation process. The state has already funded a $50,000 study done by McDonell Consulting of Arizona that evaluated the need for the health board.

“It creates a forum for public health issues that Carson City wants,” said Daren Winkelman, environmental health director for the city.

In the past few years, the city has faced several situations that have given officials a push to centralize health programs, officials said.

Recently, the city faced a problem with the availability of immunizations. In September 2003, Carson Middle School reported a growing problem with student immunizations. The state requires students to be fully vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, rubeola and other diseases.

Because of an appointment backlog at the State Health Division’s Carson City clinic and the Sierra Family Health Center, students had to wait several weeks for an appointment. With a public health infrastructure, the problem could have been resolved more quickly, according to the McDonell report submitted to the supervisors.

The city also experienced an outbreak of viral meningitis at a daycare, which frightened many parents.

“Carson City did not have a formal structure or procedures in place to deal with this situation, particularly because the problem was identified on a weekend,” the report states.

Other recent issues include an anthrax scare in October and November of 2001, the exclusion of Carson City from federal bioterrorism preparedness funding and the experience of sporadic disease outbreaks.

The board’s goals will focus on health improvement, infrastructure funding, centralizing public health, disease and preparedness planning, response and communication, community involvement and evaluation of programs.

The city already spends $1.3 million a year for public health services through its Environmental Health department. This includes $581,000 for consumer health and environmental control, $309,000 for animal services and $307,000 for the city welfare program.

Carson City is one of the first rural counties to form a state required health board for funding, said city health officer Dr. Carl Heard. Nye County was pursing a similar organization but has since dropped the idea.

“We need to continue to kind of blaze the way,” Heard said.

IF YOU GO

What: Carson City Board of Supervisors

When: 8:30 a.m. Thursday

Where: Sierra Room, Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St.