Asthma Intervention Program Helps Keep Homes Healthy

Almost 12 percent of Orange County residents reported having asthma in 2011. Only six percent of that number reported earning more than $50,000 per year.

That’s why the Orange County Health Department created Healthy Homes. It’s an asthma intervention program that lets the health department assess the air and safety of a given home environment.

“What Healthy Homes looks like is an environmental specialist and a nurse coming to a family’s home both to do a medication review with them and to do some in-home assessments to empower the family to do things that they can—that are within their control to prevent some of the asthma exacerbations,” said Coby Jansen Austin. She’s the Director of Programs and Policy for the Family Success Alliance, and the Board of Health for the Orange County Health Department.

She said the purpose of the program is to reduce emergency room visits and improve asthma symptoms in Orange County homes. Healthy Homes is a pilot program, and won the GlaxoSmithKline “Child Health Recognition Award” in September. The award comes with $5,000 to buy resources needed for it to continue working.

“With it being a pilot program, we started small,” she said. “And I’m hopeful that now we’ll be able to have a much larger reach.”

Austin said much of what Healthy Homes does is provide homes with affordable methods to get health hazards out. They also often provide residents with mattress and pillow covers, eco-friendly cleaning kits and smoking cessation materials.

They also work with community partners such as the UNC Pediatric Pulmonary Clinic to give nurses asthma safety trainings at schools.

“We try and provide a comprehensive service for the families,” Austin said. “And also think about the ways that we can support our community in being better able to support those families.”

Austin said, overall the best part about the program, and the reward was that it came from different parts of the community working together.

“We just live in a community that has such great resources that there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to support these families,” she said. “And you know, all of the partners in the community bring something unique to this, either in terms of data or perspective or skills.”

Specialists from Healthy Homes have visited over 20 family residences so far. They are currently conducting research afterwards with follow-up calls after one, three and six months to see what asthma symptoms remain and whether there have been any emergency department visits after the review.

Orange County Health Department Wins Award for Breastfeeding Support Services

The Orange County Health Department received the Mother-Baby Award for Outpatient Healthcare Clinics from the North Carolina Breastfeeding Coalition.

This competitive award has recognized the health department as one of the best support programs for breastfeeding families in North Carolina. Orange County Health Department’s Public Information Officer Stacy Shelp said this has been an ongoing effort from the department.

“It is a recognition we are amazingly proud of. We have been working a long time to be a breastfeeding friendly facility and encourage other county departments to be that as well,” Shelp said.

The Orange County Health Department actively supports breastfeeding families and provides a variety of services to educate and encourage women to breastfeed.

“We do have prenatal services, as well as, newborn services, and a nutritionist/dietician on staff that can work with that new mom or soon-to-be mom on their nutritional diets and prepping for the birth of that baby, and that team of lactation consultants and home visiting services are fantastic,” Shelp said. “So we have a full variety of services we can offer, as well as, an actual nursing and breastfeeding room in our facilities.”

Shelp said she hopes the community continues to advocate the education for breastfeeding mothers.

“I think the more that we can make breastfeeding normal and support moms out in the community, the better it will be as these children are raised in a healthier way with stronger immune systems and a better bond with their parents,” Shelp said. “The more we can do that the better. I am just so thrilled that the Health Department and the Board of Health and our communities and hospitals are all seeing the benefit and the need for this. They have all done their own part to make Orange County and our communities supportive for moms.”

Learn more about the services provided on the Health Department’s website.

Orange County Health Department is Fighting Mosquitoes

Warm summer nights are perfect for sitting on the front porch and enjoying the company of family and friends. But this time of year, there are also some unwanted guests – mosquitoes.

The pesky insects known for their itchy bites and dangerous diseases come out in full force this time of year, something that public information officer Stacy Shelp says the Orange County Health Department is ready to fight.

“With all the talk this year of Zika, we wanted to take a proactive approach in providing our residents with some resources and education that would empower them to fight the bite.”

One of the best ways to fight the bite, is to invest in mosquito dunks.

“Mosquito dunks look like a very small donut. You place them in standing water. A mosquito dunk as a whole can treat up to 100 square feet of water, but you can also break them up into smaller bodies of water like a bird bath.”

Mosquito dunks have naturally occurring bacteria that is only toxic to mosquito larvae. It prevents the insects from breeding in standing water and maturing into biting adults.

Orange County residents can stop by one of the health department’s three locations to pick up mosquito dunks on a first come, first serve basis. They can also be purchased at most home improvement and hardware stores.

But Shelp says there’s even an easier way to stop mosquitoes from breeding.

“After a rain storm, walk around your property and look where you have standing water – flower pots, gutters, leaves, also tall grass is another good place for mosquitoes to breed. So just walking around your property, taking inventory and getting rid of any standing water is the best way to strop breeding.”

In addition to eliminating standing water, Shelp advises residents to secure their homes and use protective sprays.

“Make sure you’re covered up as much as possible, using air conditioning rather than opening your windows and letting the mosquitoes in, making sure your screens don’t have holes in them – there’s a whole variety of things you can do.”

The health department is also working to place boxes with insect repellent in seven county parks. The “Spray before you Play” stations will include cans of bug spray and instructions on to how to use them. The boxes are scheduled to be installed in mid-July and remain through the end of September.

Although Shelp says mosquitoes are more active in the evenings, it doesn’t mean those warm summer nights have to go to waste. She’s got a trick for that too.

“Put a fan out there with you. Mosquitoes have a really hard time flying in that current, so it’ll keep you refreshed and the mosquitoes away.”

More information and educational videos about mosquito prevention can be found on the Orange County Health Department’s website.

Stacy Shelp: Hometown Hero

Stacy Shelp is Wednesday’s WCHL Hometown Hero.

She is the Public Information Officer for the Orange County Health Department.  Stacy’s done a fantastic job on the annual report that is just out for 2015.  The report includes some great news and some bad news, but the Health Department is working on that.

The report is released virtually to be more environmentally friendly and it allows readers to take a more in-depth look at featured items.

Listen to more about Stacy’s work here.

Whooping Cough Confirmed in Hillsborough

A second-grader at The Expedition School in Hillsborough has tested positive for pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

“We have one confirmed case of pertussis and one suspect case of pertussis in Orange County. They are two children that are both of the same family,” says Stacy Shelp, spokesperson for the Orange County Health Department.

The Expedition School is a year-round charter school serving children from kindergarten through 6th grade.

Patricia Brummit is the school’s business director. She says administrators received word of the diagnosis Monday afternoon. Parents have been notified, and some children who came in close contact with the student are taking preventive antibiotics to limit the spread of the disease.

“We have sent out all the information from the Orange County Health Department and then parents have made their own decisions about taking their children to the doctor,” says Brummit. “We have sent home some children who are showing symptoms and coughing for a while, just to be cautious.”

Shelp says pertussis is highly contagious.

“It is spread through coughing and sneezing. The good thing is it can be prevented through vaccination, so we do recommend that children receive the DTaP, it is actually one of the required vaccinations for school unless you have either a religious or medical exemption from that.”

Symptoms include runny nose, congestion, watery eyes, fever and a cough that can worsen until patients are left gasping for air. Shelp notes it can be especially serious for infants and young children.

“They are a lot more susceptible to this and often times they either end up hospitalized or it can be fatal, so we want to make sure people who are around newborns, infants or those who are immune-compromised have received their vaccination.”

While Orange County has high rate of school-aged children who are fully vaccinated, Shelp says our area also has one of the highest exemption rates in the state.

For more on whooping cough, click here.

OC Health Officials Challenge Durham Officials to Walk-Off

If you’re wearing a fancy pedometer like a Fitbit or a Jawbone, you may be swept up in a little competition for steps with your friends and co-workers.  Last week, the Orange County Health Department took step competitions to a whole new level.

“We have challenged our brothers and sisters at the Durham County Health Department to a walking challenge,” Orange County Health Department Director Colleen Bridger said.

The two departments will compete to walk the equivalent of the Appalachian Trail starting August 3. The first team to complete the trail’s 2,168 miles will win. And it’s not just bragging rights on the line.

“The health director and I have a friendly wager,” Bridger said. “So whichever health department wins, the other health department will owe a basket of that county’s themed items for a value of about $50.”

This is the Orange County Health Department’s second walking competition. The department held an internal competition among its staff this spring to walk to Orange County, California. Bridger says these competitions are meant show that exercising doesn’t have to be a chore.

“It’s really important to have people understand that moving can be fun—should be fun,” Bridger said.  “And any time that we get the opportunity as public health professionals to kind of walk that walk—complete pun intended—then we are really excited about it.”

Bridger says she hopes the competition will also raise awareness about the benefits of walking, which she says, are many.

“It’s good for your weight, it’s good for your blood pressure, it’s good for your muscles and balance,” Bridger explained. “But there have also been a lot of studies that show that walking is extremely good for your mental health. And the way that we’re doing it facilitates the fact that it’s a really good way to build camaraderie with people, which is also good for your mental health.”

The departments expect the challenge to last 6 to 8 weeks. We’ll have to wait until the fall to find out which county will come out on top.

OC Family Success Alliance Seeks Outreach Volunteers

This Saturday, volunteers with the Family Success Alliance will visit homes in Chapel Hill and Carrboro to help assess community needs.

“We’ll be asking folks questions about how well connected they are with their neighbors and also do they have trouble getting childcare or medical services?” says Orange County Health Department Program Manager Meredith Stewart. “Generally, what do they think are the strengths or challenges in their community to children and families being successful?”

The Family Success Alliance is a new initiative designed address issues of child poverty, health and education through community-specific programs.

“We are doing this as part of a gap analysis for the Family Success Alliance and that gap analysis is looking at the cradle-to-college or career pipeline for children and families in Orange County,” says Stewart.

Last week, volunteers visited Zone 4 in Hillsborough. This weekend, the focus will shift to Zone 6, which spans the boarder between Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

“We will be in Western Chapel Hill into Carrboro,” says Stewart. “We’re talking about the Highway 54-Jones Ferry intersection and around the Northside and Pine Knolls area, that downtown Chapel Hill and Carrboro residential area.”

But in order to make contact with all the homes in those neighborhoods, Stewart says more help is needed. If you’d like to help, call Meredith McMonigal at 919-245-2071.

Volunteers will meet at Carrboro Town Hall at 9 o’clock Saturday morning to go over the survey and receive red vests and name tags.“We will pair people up into teams of two and give them a designated area to go out to,” says Stewart.

The survey is also available online in English and in Spanish:

The data collected from the outreach effort will be presented back to the community for discussion at a meeting on April 9 at Carrboro Elementary.

OC Health Dept. Offers Limited Free Radon Test Kits This Month

The odorless, colorless gas radon is the second leading cause of deadly lung cancer in the U.S. – and too often, it’s found in our homes.

January is National Radon Action Month.

The North Carolina Radon program has distributed approximately 7,000 free radon testing kits across the state, and Orange County only received about 30 of them.

“They are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, said Stacy Shelp, public information officer for the Orange County Health Department. “Anyone’s eligible. There’s no income requirement, etc. People just have to stop by the Environmental Health Dept. in Hillsborough, starting on the 12th of January, or give us a call.”

They’re available through January 30th, or while supplies last.

Thirty test kits aren’t a lot, obviously. But Shelp said there’s no need to panic.

“The good news is that Orange County is not particularly prone to radon,” said Shelp. “You typically find radon in places that, geographically, have high presence of granite-type bedrock. So, the North Carolina mountains, particularly, would be more concerned.

Still, she added, radon is not found more often in any particular kind of structure, so we should all take precautions against it.

Shelp said that once the supply of free kits runs out, the NC Radon Program will return to providing kits for $5.35, at a savings of nearly $10.

You can also buy a kit for around $15 at a big-box home improvement store, or just about any small hardware store.

The Orange County Environmental Health Department is located at 131 West Margaret Lane, Suite 100.

You can call the EHD at 919-245-2360.

For more information on radon and how you can lower your family’s risk of lung cancer, you can visit

OC Health Dept Targets Child Poverty With New “Family Success Alliance”

Despite an air of affluence, a growing number of families in Orange County are struggling to get by.

Now, the Orange County Health Department is spearheading a county-wide effort to reach out to families in need.

“The Family Success Alliance is a new endeavor in Orange County modeled after the Harlem’s Children Zone and the East Durham Children’s Initiative,” says Health Director Dr. Colleen Bridger.

A coalition of government agencies along with education and health care advocates is working to build a support network for children living in poverty. Dr Michael Steiner of UNC Hospitals says that’s important because early childhood poverty can have lasting repercussions.

“Challenges in early childhood can result in lifelong impact, including how our brains get built, how ready we are to start school, how we do in school and then what happens to us later on in life as adults,” says Steiner. “So the Family Success Alliance hopes to build a pipeline that will take kids from a successful early childhood through a successful young adult life.”

The Health Department has identified six zones in Orange County with the highest number of residents who are struggling to meet basic needs such as food, housing and access to health care.

By the end of the year, Health Department officials will select two of the six to participate in the Family Success Alliance pilot project. Bridger says a series of community listening sessions will be held now through next week to help detail the needs and strengths of each community.

“The community forums are designed to help the communities come together and learn more about the project and help the zone champion put together an application,” says Bridger.

The identified zones are:
Zone 1 Efland-Cheeks (70 Corridor)
Zone 2 Downtown Hillsborough
Zone 3 85/40 Junction
Zone 4 East of 40
Zone 5 15-501 & 40 (Martin Luther King Corridor)
Zone 6 Chapel Hill/Carrboro (54 and Jones Ferry Road)

Listening session schedules for each zone:

Zone 4: Thursday, November 6, from 6-7pm at New Hope Elementary School, 1900 New Hope Church Rd, Chapel Hill.
Zone 6: Tuesday, November 11, from 6-7pm at Hargraves Community Center, 216 N. Roberson St, Chapel Hill.
Zone 3: Thursday, November 13, from 6-7pm at Grady Brown Elementary School, 1100 New Grady Brown School Rd, Hillsborough.
Zone 5: Thursday, November 13, from 6-7pm at the Chapel Hill Library, 100 Library Drive, Chapel Hill.

Orange County Reports Lowest Teen Pregnancy Rate In NC

Health Department officials say Orange County’s teen pregnancy rate has dropped by 35 percent in the past year, making it the lowest in the state. The county reported 102 teen pregnancies in 2012, but only 68 in 2013.

Orange County Health Director Colleen Bridger credits comprehensive sex education, parent involvement and access to reproductive health care for the sharp decline.

However, she notes that racial and ethnic disparities still exist, with higher rates of unplanned pregnancy among local African-American and Hispanic teens.

The health department is exploring new ways to reach out, including an interactive health education avatar named “Anna,” who can answer questions from users to provide personalized advice.

You can find statewide information about teen pregnancy and sexual health here.