A Passion For Public Health: Collins reflects on first year as health department director
Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2023
With over 20 years of Public Health experience, Judy Collins was ready to hit the ground running as soon as she became Lincoln County’s Health Department Director.
Collins was hired as health director in Aug. 2022, but she had served Lincoln County since 2007 as a Regional Epidemiologist.
Throughout her career, Collins has earned a Master of Public Administration, with an emphasis in community health, as well as a nursing degree from Eastern Kentucky University. She also earned a Bachelor of Science in economics from the University of Kentucky.
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When Collins became director, the COVID-19 pandemic was coming to an end, and the focus of public health began to shift back to previous priorities and programs.
“Everything is so fast and changing. Just the world we live in it’s just ever-fast and changing in technology. But I try to work diligently to stay abreast of the changes. It never fails when you think you know, things change,” Collins said.
State and federal grants, for example, she said are always changing, but are beneficial to residents.
“It’s different from being in the private sector,” Collins said. “In the public sector there’s so many different layers.”
Collins wants to use her education and experience to make a difference in the community, she said.
“I hope that, through my knowledge and experience, that I can be a benefit and an asset to the community,” she said.
A year in review
Collins said her first year as director has been a busy one as the department has been returning to programs that took a back seat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of those programs is aimed at helping and educating those in the community with diabetes.
“Diabetes is such a big issue in Kentucky, probably everywhere, but for sure in Lincoln, and folks who have diabetes tend to have other underlying issues, many other health issues,” Collins said. “So one of my goals this year was to provide a diabetes education program to the public. Just to teach them how to medically live and just how to help themselves with their diets and their life habits.”
In addition to offering a diabetes education class to the public, Collins said the department has also grown the Needle Exchange program.
Collins said the number of participants in the Harm Reduction program has nearly doubled in the last year.
Harm Reduction is aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use, such as diseases that spread through the use of dirty needles.
In addition to clean needles and a place to dispose of dirty needles, the program also offers hepatitis and HIV testing, as well as information on rehabilitation services.
Thanks to a grant, a new drop-off box was recently installed in front of the health department.
“Whether you’re law enforcement, whether you’re a grandmother, a parent, someone in active addiction, you can come 24-7 and drop your needles off,” she said.
The Harm Reduction program is one that Collins is passionate about, she said.
“It’s something that I’ve been working on this year because our community does have a serious problem,” Collins said. “Along with the drugs is the homelessness. It’s here and it’s real. So that’s one of my passions. I want to try to help those that are lost because of their addiction. I want to help them get the help that they need.”
It’s more than just coming to the health department and getting clean needles, she said.
“I hired someone who is a peer counselor that can be a resource to them to get them into recovery and to get them into treatment on their terms, when they’re ready,” she said.
Harm reduction is a core of public health, she said.
“There are things that you have to provide: WIC (Women, infants and children), Harm Reduction, the Hands program…those are all things that are dear to my heart for lots of reasons,” she said. “I just want to be able to help folks and to get programs in place that truly help the community.”
Collins has big plans for the future, she said, and she’s excited to continue her work as director.
“I’m open to new ideas,” she said.
The health department has a new Facebook page, titled Lincoln County Health Department, that Collins said will be used to promote programs and share important public health information.
“I’m hoping the public can be directed to our new page and to support us, because that’s what gives us motivation as well,” she said.
The health department is also welcoming the public back to in-person services at the office, Collins said, and they’re excited to be conducting the WIC program in person once again.
“I’m really excited. We’ve got our lobby looking good. We’ve got some new paint, new chairs,” she said. “So we’ve made some improvements, just to welcome our moms back and we’re looking forward to seeing everyone back in our clinic again. We’re ready to get back to normal.”
Collins said she welcomes public input about any needs in the community.
“If there’s a need that the community has that they want to see addressed, we’re all ears,” she said.
SO YOU KNOW
There have been several health department Facebook pages in the past. Here is a link to the new page: https://www.facebook.com/lincolncohealthdepartment