Six months into the job, the new director of the McLean County Health Department is staring at a lengthy to-do list. It’s filled with complex problems with no easy solutions—opioid abuse, obesity, and even dental health, to name a few.
But the biggest issue facing McLean County, says Camille Rodriguez, covers them all. It’s access to care. It’s the ability to go to a dentist, or a primary care physician, or get help for substance abuse.
“Do I imply that the Health Department will turn itself into a place where primary care is provided? I’m not making that implication,” she said. “But if you're looking for something that affects the entire county regardless of issue, to me it’s access.”
Rodriguez’s new job began in January. She most recently worked for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services as director of its Division of Public Health’s Bureau of Community Health Promotion. Earlier in her career, Rodriguez worked for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ Division of Child Protection.
Rodriguez oversees 87 full-time staff members and an operating budget of $9.7 million.
The same drug epidemic that’s swept the nation also led to at least 40 confirmed overdose deaths in McLean County in 2017. There have already been 12 drug overdose deaths this year, including one that yielded drug-inducted homicide charges last week, officials said.
The McLean County Health Department is trying to figure out its role in fighting opioid abuse, Rodriguez said. It could focus on working with doctors and pharmacies on prescribing practices, she said. Another opportunity is a prevention program targeting young people. Parents play a role too, she said, like in moments after a kid gets her wisdom teeth pulled and she’s prescribed an opioid painkiller.
“We have some decisions to make when we do that. We also have an opportunity to have a discussion with our young person,” Rodriguez said. “‘Look what I got from your dentist. Do we really need this to manage your pain? If so, here are some of the consequences of using an opioid to manage pain.’”
“I know prevention is a hard thing to hold onto and grab,” she added. “But if we’re talking to our young people about other issues—like vaping—we also should be talking about the opioid crisis. Because some of it is prescription drugs and not heroin.”
The Health Department is one of many partners in the McLean County Community Health Improvement Plan that was approved last year. The first progress report was delivered in March.
One of that plan’s objectives is increasing the proportion of McLean County adults who have access to dental care—something Rodriguez says is a top priority for her. As recently as 2014, around 39 percent of county residents reported not having dental insurance.
“If we’re not taking care of our teeth and gums, infections can spread throughout the body. There are other chronic disease issues that can arise. It’s about a person’s whole health,” Rodriguez said.
The McLean County Health Department has a dental clinic that serves children four days a week and adults one day a week. It accepts Medicaid and served 4,635 children and 266 adults last year. The Community Health Care Clinic in Normal recently announced plans to begin offering dental care, relying on volunteer dentists and donated equipment.
Despite services like that, there’s a need for more, Rodriguez said. She’s been brainstorming for other ways the health department can help, such as having a dental hygienist tag along on home visits to Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition, Education, and Supplemental Food Program (WIC) families. That hygienist could offer reminders that the health department has a dental clinic that serves children, she said.
“Not everyone has the ability to come and even be served in the milieu of services we provide. It is a priority because there aren’t many dentists and other providers that serve and support everyone who has Medicaid. The McLean County Health Department is one that can’t meet every single need, and that’s hard for us to accept sometimes,” she said.
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