Health department teams with KSU

Juanita Cebulak

Partnership to help increase awareness about levy’s chances

Unless a Portage County Health Department levy passes in November, it will be forced to layoff four staff members and operate with a deficit. That’s why the department and Kent State joined forces to increase public awareness about health department services and increase the levy’s chances of passing.

If the new .4 mill levy passes, it will generate $1,022,386 annually.

Kent State students working with assistant professor Amy Thompson designed marketing and educational strategies as an outreach to citizens in the community.

The students’ goal is to promote the programs and services available to everyone, said Caryn Merkel, a graduate student in health education and promotion. Many residents of Portage County are not aware of all the things going on behind the scenes to keep them healthy.

“Safe food and water, communicable disease investigation, health education and promotion, child immunization clinics, health risk assessment, monitoring new diseases worldwide and preparing for new disease outbreaks are just some of the things the Health Department does,” Merkel said.

The campaign is called “Take 5 and Tell 3.”

“This campaign encourages citizens to familiarize themselves with Portage County Health Department services and to tell others about these services,” Thompson said at a press conference Monday. “It will have many positive benefits such as students gaining practical experience in planning marketing efforts and carrying out educational and advocacy programs.”

The health education students produced public health marketing materials, including fact sheets, brochures and promotional DVDs. These marketing materials will be available for distribution and the DVDs will be available at the county Web site.

Before students made the materials, they formed focus groups to see exactly what was needed, said Kelli Riley, a graduate student in health education and promotion, who is also working on the project.

Students in the focus groups determined that residents had limited knowledge about the services available from the health department, Riley said. The focus groups decided that by using community members they could best get information out to the residents, she said. Over the next couple of weeks, students will be meeting with these community stakeholders and show them how to use the advocacy toolkit containing the educational materials.

Once citizens know what the health department offers, they might be more likely to vote for the new levy in November.

“Since 1955, Portage County has not been able to pass an additional core replacement levy to increase the services of the health department,” Rep. Kathleen Chandler said at the press conference. “If it is to continue to deliver critical services in an effective manner, it will need an increase in funds.”

From 1955 until now, staff fell from 69 to 22, said Duwayne Porter, Portage County health commissioner. The health department needs to come into the 21st century, he said. It needs more money to keep up its services, he said.

Without more money, the health department’s deficit will increase to $163,523, according to the health department’s overview. It will lay off four more people, and it will maintain state programs at or below minimum, according to literature from the health department.

“At the turn of the century the average life expectancy was 45 years,” Porter said. “It is now over 77 years. Twenty-five years of that can be directly accounted for by public health.”

Public health might improve by the campaign, but the cost paid by citizens for it is definitely an improvement.

Porter said, Kent State is doing it for free. A marketing firm wanted to charge the health department $65,000 for this type of campaign.

The health department has no passed an additional levy since 1955, although a levy has appeared on the ballot 37 times since.

Contact public affairs reporter Juanita Cebulak at [email protected].