June 8, 2010

Bowersox brings energy, fresh ideas to Racine Health Department

Board of Health meeting, June 8, 2010.

Public Health Nurse Dottie-Kay Bowersox is hitting her stride as the head of Racine's Health Department.

Bowersox (no relation to the American Idol finalist) started working for the city in February. She's spent the last four months getting acquainted with the department and is working with employees to prioritize recommendations for improving the department and what she should be working on.

Along with conceptual planning Bowersox has made concrete changes to the department. In May she organized the first of four closure dates for the department to focus on planning and cleaning. The department shut down to the public on a Thursday and used the day to throw out old materials and clean areas for the first time in many years.

Bowersox wrote to city employees:
I am pleased to announce that Health Department personnel were the heroes of the day and made a significant dent in reducing unwanted /unnecessary materials. This is the first time in many years this type of event has happened. So when you see the recycling, shredder and / or equipment trucks leaving the back parking lot full … you have us to thank for it.
The Health Department will also be closed on July 29, Sept. 30 and Nov. 18 - all Thursdays. The cleaning and organizing dates portend a big change for the health department, according to Bowersox's monthly report to the Board of Health. Bowersox said the department may be moving to a new location by the end of the year.

She also brought an innovative idea with her from Michigan. Bowersox and the Health Department are organizing a small Farmers' Market outside of City Hall beginning in July for people who receive fresh produce vouchers from WIC. The idea is to catch recipients as they walk out of City Hall, where they pick up the vouchers, and get them shopping for healthy foods.

Bowersox located two local farmers who are certified by the state to sell produce outside of City Hall. Sales will be open to the public, but the focus will be on WIC recipients, she said.

A similar program Bowersox oversaw in Michigan had success, she said.

Bowersox drew compliments from Board of Health members at their Tuesday meeting. The board liked her monthly report, calling it informative and helpful.

It appears to be a solid turnaround for a department that struggled for over a year under the past public health nurse, who was essentially fired by the City Council. Her departure left a leadership void in the department existing staff filled for several months until Bowersox was hired.

The decision, so far, appears to be working out.

A couple of other Health Department notes:

BUDGET: The city will start work on its 2011 budget in July. Departments are already meeting on their spending plans for next year, and they'll receive direction from Mayor John Dickert and City Administrator Tom Friedel on what to expect for spending next year.

COUNTRYSIDE: Bowersox was talking with Countryside Humane Society as news broke that hundreds of pets received expired vaccinations. Her report said 507 animals vaccinated on the one-year cycle and an unknown number of pets on the 3-year cycle would need to be revaccinated. Countryside has scheduled four clinics over the next four months to revaccinate animals.

INFANT MORTALITY: Awhile back a Madison newspaper used a former Racine resident's story to highlight the city's significant decline in its infant mortality rate, particularly among African-American mothers. The story suggested the woman moved from Racine to Madison and received better care, which allowed her to give birth to a healthy baby after miscarrying in Racine. It also celebrated Madison's success at lowering its rate. That celebration was put on hold late last year when it was revealed Madison's infant mortality rate had shot back up, erasing all of its gains in a single year. Researchers don't know why, and they're hoping it was just a bad year.