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Posted: February 5, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Health and human services

We often take things like our health for granted until it goes downhill. Other things like the services the library offers or athletic programs for our children also are often under appreciated until they disappear.

After health and human services day with my Leadership Newton County class, I have a new found respect for all the people who work behind the scenes at elderly care facilities, health departments, hospitals, libraries and recreation departments.

We began last Thursday with a delicious breakfast at Merryvale Assisted Living. I remember my grandmother and great aunt in nursing homes near the ends of their lives and, therefore, have a bit of an aversion to such places. However, Merryvale felt more like a college dorm than a hospital. I learned that nursing home facilities are very different than assisted living facilities and that seniors have many more housing options than they did just a few years ago. It will be quite a while, hopefully, before I need a place like Merryvale, but it was comforting to discover that there are such places where the elderly are truly cared for rather than herded and stored until the end.

Our class then toured the Newton County Library, which, we all found out from Director Greg Heid, is one of the highest traffic libraries in the state. Books and other media items don't just magically appear on the shelves, and we were able to witness briefly the team effort that goes into stocking the library. Working for the newspaper, I know full well that entities operating with state or local tax dollars have been hit hard in the last year and a half. However, I was still shocked to learn that the library has had its books budget cut from $300,000 to $40,000. Yet despite these setbacks, Heid and his employees still afford our residents with all the amenities they have come to expect in their library. For many Newton County residents, the library is the only source for the Internet, which is an almost necessary component of finding a job these days. He warned that the library may have to cut hours again with further budget constraints, so I am urging anyone who doesn't want to see this happen to either join the Friends of the Library or make a donation.

Also at the library we heard from representatives of our Mental Health and Health Departments. With the economy as it is, the health department has seen an increase in patients. For a time last year health department employees had to jam all the family planning patients they would normally see in a week into just one day a week. They worked hard to meet the needs of our community during this time but are glad that they may now treat those patients five days a week. Many have the idea that the health department is just for underage girls who need birth control or low income families, but this is not true. The Newton County Health Department is for all residents and this was evident on our tour of the facility. Something new employees are very proud of is the immunization clinic. When local residents are planning trips overseas, they can go the health department, tell them the country they are visiting and then learn and receive what vaccinations are recommended for Americans traveling to that foreign land. These immunizations can be administered by professionals at a fraction of the cost at a private practice. This is a welcome new service in a community that has such a strong missionary population.

We continued our tour at Newton Medical Center and were served lunch. Although the pasta salad prepared by the cafeteria staff was amazing, I was most impressed with what I saw in the new Wound Care Center. Sometimes wounds just don't heal, especially in cases where patients have diabetes. To address this need, the hospital purchased two hyperbaric oxygen chambers. Research confirms that this dose of pure oxygen increases red blood cell count, which helps the body to heal from the inside out rather a through topical treatments. A patient was kind enough to allow us to view her while she was being treated - it must be comfortable because she was napping.

The hospital also has other exciting technological innovations they are pursuing. That's for a later story, but I do want to put in a plug for a campaign the Auxiliary is backing at the moment. A goal of the hospital staff and auxiliary is to send every neonatal intensive care unit graduate home with a CPR Anytime Training Kit. The infant kits contain a practice dummy, 20-minute instructional DVD and procedural charts parents can post in a nursery or give to a daycare. The idea is that in the stressful NICU environment, parents don't retain important information regarding the safety of their baby. The kit will allow them to relearn the procedure and train other caregivers. The kits cost $40 and can be purchased in the hospital gift shop. Donations of any amount are welcome.

Our class ended the day at the Newton County Recreation Department and Senior Services Center.
We went on a tour of both facilities and found that both are full of life. It's really a wonder that rec department employees ever get to go home with all of the overlapping sports they offer. Director Tommy Hailey said enrollment has grown steadily since the facility opened because Newton has very competitive rates.

Participation also is vibrant in the senior center and there is no shortage of activities there either. One look at Miss Exercise in the Ms. Senior Newton County Pageant and I was praying to God for my 80 years to look similar.

These LNC class days are so packed that one column a month doesn't really do them justice. But, I learn so much that makes me proud to call Newton home that I want to share it with all of you.
My only fine this week stemmed from using the class days as a way to find different angles on stories for the paper - it was worth the dollar.

Jennifer T. Long is editor of The News and a member of the 2009-10 class of Leadership Newton County. Each month she is writing about her experiences in the program

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