by Brent Swan
Dr. David Roe, a long-time Marion physician, became the Wabash County Health Officer March 1, replacing Dr. James Rudolph. After retiring from practice in 2010, Dr. Roe and his wife began contemplating construction of a home outside of Lagro when he learned of the position.
“We had decided we were going to build on the property we had owned for the past 28 years,” Dr. Roe recalled. “We called the County Health Office to speak with Jennifer Scott about a septic system and she said they were going to be without a County Health Officer. I thought it over for a bit and talked to some of our friends, Dean and Kae Gifford, and decided to give it a try.”
Born in Alabama, Dr. Roe spent the majority of his childhood in Illinois before attending the University of Illinois where he received his undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in chemistry. Dr. Roe then went to the University of Illinois-Chicago where he graduated from medical school in 1972.
“I did my surgical residency at the University of Illinois and spent a year as chief resident there before coming here in 1977 to Marion. I practiced general surgery in Marion until 2010 when I retired.”
According to Dr. Roe, the County Health Officer is primarily responsible for overseeing the County Health Department’s staff, as well as overseeing the administration of immunizations and maintaining a medical license to legally sign and validate birth and death certificates.
“Within this office, we have Jennifer Scott, who does the Environmental Health certifications for septic systems, to detect contamination of streams, and for CAFO operations, making sure they don’t have any effluent contaminating waterways,” Dr. Roe said. “And she also tests and gives permits for septic systems. They use four or five soil specialists that test the ground – all of that is necessary to ensure you do not get fecal contamination getting back into the water supply.”
In addition to Scott’s office, the County Health Department is also responsible for conducting restaurant inspections and certifying food preparation throughout Wabash County, and making sure food is prepared in a sanitary manner.
“Lynn Dannacher does the restaurant inspections and has a list of all of the restaurants and food preparation places in the county,” Dr. Roe said. “We oversee any facility that prepares food and have the power to demand something be changed, if needed. Ultimately, we can shut someone down or fine preparers for flagrant violations.”
In addition to the Environmental Health and Food side, the County Health Department is most easily recognized as the center for vital records and immunizations. Kathy Carter-Lower and Lynn Ellis are the office administrators in charge of the health office functions as well as vital records.
“Anyone that wants a birth certificate or death certificate must come through this office,” Dr. Roe said. “If someone dies, the attending physician would make the statement that they had died and complete the appropriate paperwork and forms.
Records are monitored by the state, and everything is online now. We get a lot of people that come in doing genealogy research, for example someone may want to know birth and death dates or burial locations for their grandparents – we are able to pull up that information for those interested.”
The Wabash County Health Department also employs two public health nurses on staff, Taisha Moore and Lori Foust, who take care of the immunizations and conduct various health fairs at the area schools.
“They do more than just give immunizations against measles, chickenpox, and mumps,” Dr. Roe explained of the nurses. “They also go out and talk to kids about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), healthy lifestyles, about how to choose your diet and activities to lead a healthier lifestyle.
“I was just talking to the nurses about the county health rankings that come out every year and about 70 percent of the factors that determine the rankings are based on lifestyle choices,” Dr. Roe said. “That’s what we are trying to do with encouraging healthier lifestyles. We can’t dictate to someone how they are going to live, but we can try to educate them so they make healthy choices. There’s smoking, alcoholism, obesity, drug use, and then you get into the economic factors of unemployment and criminal activity. All of those have a negative health impact. We would like to be able to stamp it all out, but of course we can’t.”
A very important part of public health is the immunization against communicable diseases, and that is readily available at our County Health Department. but according to Dr. Roe, many people still wrongly believe immunizations pose an unnecessary health risk
“We’re trying really hard to ensure all the school kids are immunized,” Dr. Roe said. “One of the big problems we still encounter is that one small segment of the population feels that their children should not be immunized as they fear they might become autistic or get mercury poisoning. There is absolutely no proven evidence anywhere that immunizations are bad. The Center for Disease Control down at Atlanta has a database and there are maybe a few cases each year of someone with an allergic reaction to an immunization out of millions given.
“They screen the kids to make sure they do not have allergies to any kind of egg products or any of the other possible growth media they have for the killed virus,” Dr. Roe continued. “You are much safer getting the immunization than you are driving to the place to get the immunization. If you go to third world countries and see the polio, diphtheria, tetanus, typhoid, polio, and whooping cough they have, you realize how fortunate we are to have ready access to immunizations and vaccines.”
In addition to offering immunizations, the County Health Nurses play a large role in the annual Kindergarten Round-Up, hosted by the local schools to ensure the incoming class of kindergarteners meets entrance requirements.
“The County Health Nurses went out to all the schools and it was pretty well received,” Dr. Roe said. “State law says all the children must be immunized prior to beginning school. You don’t want a child with chicken pox or measles sitting in a class infecting everyone else. If everyone is immunized, you don’t have to worry about it - it just doesn’t make any sense not to.”
According to statistics from the state of Indiana, less than 10 percent of children entering kindergarten in Wabash County are behind on immunizations while the state average is closer to 30 percent.
Although still relatively new to the County Health Department, Dr. Roe said his first month on the job has been satisfying.
“I’m still learning the ropes, of course, but each week the Indiana Department of Health sends out a letter about what is going on in the state regarding public health issues and that is very interesting to read,” Dr. Roe said of his experience thus far. “I went down to the County Health Officers’ meeting in Indianapolis March 21 and it was interesting to meet the other County Health Officers and see the problems they are having and how they relate to small communities like Wabash County.”