MOUNT VERNON — In recognition of National Public Health Week, the Knox County Health Department presented five individuals with its Partner in Public Health Award this morning during the agency’s eighth annual breakfast event.
“The health department works together with many different agencies and individuals to help the residents of Knox County,” said Health Commissioner Julie Miller. “Public Health Week gives us the opportunity to promote what we do and recognize these individuals for the important contributions they make to our success.”
The five individuals honored were Lenor Cochran, Jenny Highnam, Chris Menapace, Connie Vipperman and Wendy Williams. Staff members of the health department made the presentations. Health promotions director Pam Palm explained a change in the award this year. In recent years, the award depicted a puzzle piece, signifying the Partners’ essential role in what the health department does. This year’s award is a glass piece showing the National Public Health logo and three words which explain what public health is all about: Protect, Prevent and Promote.
“We still think of our partners as essential to what we do,” explained Palm, “but we really want to emphasize the importance of public health in our everyday lives and how it involves different sectors of the community.”
Cochran has been a registered nurse for 58 years and “an ardent supporter of public health in Knox County,” according to Palm. She worked briefly for the health department in the early 1960s before taking time off to raise four children. Yet, she was not idle as a stay-at-home mom. She was instrumental in getting the home health program started and has been a member of the home health advisory committee since the program began in 1966. She worked as the director of nursing for Country Court Nursing Center for 25 years and was an instructor with the Knox County Career Center’s LPN program for 17 years. In 2011, she was named LPN Instructor of the Year by the Ohio LPN Association.
Highnam is the preschool supervisor for the Knox County Educational Service Center which involves oversight of all of the school preschool programs in Knox County. According to Ann Fisher, supervisor for the Help Me Grow program, Highnam has played a vital role in helping special needs children and their parents transition to preschool.
“A parent facing the fact that specialized services are necessary for their preschool child needs to be assured their child is in capable hands,” said Fisher. “Jenny is able to convey that at every transition meeting. Her calming voice and ability to connect with families is key when shaping a parent’s impression of their child’s initial school experience.”
Menapace is fire chief for the Mount Vernon Fire Department, stepping in at this role in 2011 after serving as assistant chief. “Whether it’s dealing with hotels, restaurants, open burns, dilapidated buildings or anything else like that, public safety has always been priority No. 1 for him,” said Environmental Health Director Nate Overholt. “Chief Menapace is a man of honor who has kept his department running like a well-oiled machine. In the midst of turmoil and many things going on, they kept going ... they did not miss a beat. He has never hesitated to do what is necessary to assure that the public and his staff are safe at all times. He’s a straight-shooter that shows no favoritism. He always does what is right, because every day people’s lives depend on his decisions.”
Vipperman, a licensed social worker with Knox Community Hospital, works with the health department through its home health program. “We have developed a great relationship with Connie over the years, and she is a wonderful resource for patients,” said Jackie Fletcher, director of nursing. “So many people do not know what they need when they are discharged, and she does a great job of helping them figure out what they need and connecting them with the right resource.”
Williams is the executive director of Mental Health and Recovery for Licking and Knox Counties where “she has proven herself a public health advocate time and time again,” according to Miller, who made the award presentation to Williams. “She has been involved as a public health partner through her work with and/or support of the Knox Substance Abuse Action Team, the Community Health Assessment Partnership, the local Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Wellness Coalition among others,” said Miller. She has been extremely helpful to the health department by providing her expertise, experience and sharing of any research-based information to assist in improving public health practices. “Wendy is a great example of a public health partner — although not always seen — she has tremendous positive impact on our community.”
The health department will close National Public Health Week with the kickoff of a monthly wellness walk. To celebrate this year’s theme, “A Healthier America Begins Today,” the health department is joining forces with the Knox County Park District to sponsor the monthly walks in a promotion called “Get Your Tail to the Trail.” The walks will be at 9 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month at a different walking trail in the park district and will feature a health topic.
This Saturday’s walk will begin at the main entrance of the Kokosing Gap Trail, off of Mount Vernon Avenue. There is no cost to take part in the walk, and preregistration is not necessary. The wellness walks will be led by health commissioner Julie Miller and other health department staff.
News Staff Reporter Alan Reed contributed to this story.