An interview with Jane Wernsman, executive director of the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center

Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Jane Wernsman, director of the Cape Girardeau County Health Center (Laura Simon)

Jane Wernsman, executive director of the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center, first moved to Cape Girardeau because of her husband's work.

She received her bachelor of science degree in nursing from Murray State University and has continued her education through the Missouri Public Health Institute and numerous continuing education programs.

Wernsman and her husband, Steve, have a daughter who followed her mom's footsteps into the nursing field. Sarah works in the PICU at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis.

When she's not working, Wernsman enjoys spending time with her family, including her parents and fur-baby Chloe, reading and working on special projects.

After being an employee of the health center for more than 20 years, Wernsman took over as executive director in October after Charlotte Craig stepped down.

BT: Describe your role as executive director of the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center.

Wernsman: To direct the daily operations of the agency, which includes: plan, coordinate, manage, direct and develop the public health programs for the Cape Girardeau County Public Health Center. (I'm) responsible for coordinating all activities of the local health department to insure conformance with the statewide public health program of the Department of Health and Senior Services, and promote growth and development of the department.

BT: What are some of the biggest community health issues or concerns in Cape Girardeau County and Southeast Missouri? What is being done to address them?

Wernsman: In May 2012 the health center completed its Community Health Assessment (updated at least every three years) Review. (It includes) data and information on the following health status indicators: county demographics, education, socioeconomic, environmental, public safety, family/domestic violence, unintended injuries, maternal and child health, infectious diseases, chronic diseases and their risk factors, morbidity and mortality, health care system and community resources. The health center partners with other community agencies to identify the "significant" findings from each of those indicators. The three most significant were:

> No. 1: Obesity rates in both adults and children. Although lower than state rates, the county rates have continued to increase since the last assessment in 2009.

> No. 2: Increased rate of smoking, particularly during pregnancy.

> No. 3: Childhood immunization rates are lower than state rates

BT: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said this could be the worst flu season since 2009. How severe has it been so far in Southeast Missouri?

Wernsman: Through the end of 2012 -- Dec. 31, 2012, to be exact -- Cape Girardeau County had the following:

> Laboratory Confirmed Influenza A: 32 cases

> Laboratory Confirmed Influenza B: 222 cases, primarily in the 5 to 4 and 15 to 25 year age groups.

These figures are slightly higher than what we saw during the same time frame in 2011. The health center receives weekly surveillance information from hospitals, physician offices, schools, day care centers and walk-in clinics.

BT: What can people do to prevent the spread of the flu?

Wernsman: Get a flu vaccine (especially young children, pregnant women, those with asthma and those 65 and older).

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough/sneeze in the crook of the arm.

Wash your hands often with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as germs spread that way. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities.

While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Wash hands frequently.

BT: This is a business publication: What are some healthy workplace habits readers can adopt in 2013?

Wernsman: All of the above! Some tips that I have run across include:

> Exercise: Finding time for exercise is important for our health and is a great way to manage stress. Go for a walk and start getting your body moving. Even taking the stairs instead of the elevator can make a huge difference.

> Eat well: Our work habits can make it hard to eat well, but with some small changes, we can take control of what we eat and stay healthy. Plan your meals in advance each week and shop accordingly. Bring healthy snacks to work with you (like fruit and nuts) to stop the temptation of unhealthy stop gaps.

> Drink plenty of water: A general rule is to drink two liters a day.

>Be aware of the effects of computer work on your eyes and body, make sure you stretch regularly and move away from where you are working when you can.

BT: You took over as executive director after Charlotte Craig stepped down. What did you learn working with her?

Wernsman: So many things! Qualities that Charlotte often displayed and I hope to instill (are) leadership for the staff and public in terms of public health issues, compassion and caring, working with community partners and peers and, of course, planning for our four-legged animals!

BT: You've been an employee of the county health department for more than 20 years. What initially brought you to the department and why have you stayed with it for so long?

Wernsman: My husband, daughter and I moved to Cape Girardeau as a result of my husband's work. Prior to joining the team at Cape Girardeau County Public Health, I was director of nursing for Southern Seven Health Department in Illinois for 10 years. I suppose the reason I have stayed for "so long" is my passion for public health and the opportunity to meet the challenges that presents, and of course Cape Girardeau itself is a good place to live!

BT: How has the department changed during that time?

Wernsman: Six months after I started working at the health center, we moved from the County Annex building on Lorimier Street into our new building on Linden Street. Since that time, we have grown not only in the number of staff employed but the number and variety of services that we provide. In 2009 another addition was added to the original building. Public health, as a whole, has expanded from just providing immunizations and clinic type services to identifying what is at the root of health issues, intervening and then preventing. We have also been very active in pro-disaster and emergency preparedness.

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