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County health board honored as best in state

Members of the Board of Health are, from left, Jim Crafton, Bill Lapsley, Terry Hicks, Robyn Sutton Bryson, Jerald Pyles, Kris Peters, Graham Fields, Liz Todd, Pete Richards, Barbara Stanley.

To the best climate, the best downtown, the best prep volleyball and the best World War II veteran honoring effort, citizens of Henderson County can add another reason to take pride: the best Board of Health.

Members of the Henderson County Board of Health posed for a photo on Tuesday night before their regular monthly board meeting, accepting the North Carolina Outstanding Board of Health Award for advocating tobacco use prevention programs, partnering with a community task force to fight prescription drug abuse, forming a collaborative communitywide process to recruit a new executive director and increasing the vaccination rate for county schoolchildren.
Health Director Steve Smith credited the board members for the award; the board chair credited Smith and his predecessor, Tom Bridges.
"I would say it's an exceptional board," Smith said. "I've been a health director for 14 years and they are absolutely one of the most committed caring groups I have ever worked with. They're committed to public health."
North Carolina has 85 public health boards and usually just one gets the Outstanding Board of Health Award. This year two received it.
Henderson County Health Director Steve Smith.Henderson County Health Director Steve Smith."I think it's the directors," board Chairman Pete Richards said when asked what accounts for the award, "although we've got in my opinion a great variety of committed people and we're well represented — the hospitals, physicians, pharmacist, dentist. From what I understand with many other boards, it's hard to get four or five people there. We've had great participation from the county commissioners, with Larry Young and now Bill Lapsley."
The North Carolina Health Directors chose the Henderson County public health board for its work in four areas:

  • Health director hiring process. In Bridges, the board lost an experienced and respected health director. Using its ties to the community, the board organized an extensive "community stakeholders group" and created a focus group to identify the traits they wanted in a new director. The board hired Smith, a highly regarded health director from Transylvania County.
  • Tobacco use prevention. Although the county Board of Commissioners enacted a no-smoking policy on most county property, the Board of Health urged the elected leaders to go further and ban smoking on all county property and in county vehicles. The health board opposed the commissioners' decision to create designated smoking areas on county grounds; the commissioners have not acted on the health board's request.
  • Drug abuse prevention. Working with the Partnership for Health, the Board of Health supported the prescription medication abuse prevention effort known as HopeRx by devoting in-kind staff support and supported the effort to allow county EMS crews and law enforcement officers to administer the drug overdose antidote naloxone.
  • School vaccines. After identifying vaccination of schoolchildren as a priority, the Board of Health worked with the county school system to make sure that flu vaccinations were provided in all 13 elementary schools during school hours, targeting Medicaid-covered and uninsured children specifically. As a result, the county increased flu vaccinations overall by 19 percent and increased vaccinations of Medicaid-covered and uninsured children by 66 percent.

Members of the Board of Health are Pete Richards, a dentist, chair; Barbara Stanley, registered nurse, vice chair; Terry Hicks, public member; Jim Crafton, engineer; Beverly Hargus, veterinarian; Graham Fields, public member, Park Ridge Health; Kris Peters, public member, Pardee Hospital; Craig Poole, optometrist; Bill Lapsley, county commissioner; Jerald Pyles, physician; Robyn Sutton Bryson, pharmacist. Immediate past board members who served during the time for which the board was honored were County Commissioner Larry Young, Dr. Elizabeth Todd and Dr. Phil Sellers.