Health departments thrust into spotlight due to pandemic

NEOSHO, Mo. – Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most people didn’t give their local health department a second thought. But the pandemic put them in the spotlight in both a good way and a bad way.

The local health department, two and a half years ago, wasn’t on the forefront of most people’s minds. Larry Bergner says “I’ve always said the health department is the best kept secret in town.”

Larry Bergner is the Administrator for the Newton County Health Department. He attributes that statement to what he’s seen as the general public’s perception of not just the Newton County Health Department, but all of them. “Most people think that the health department is for those lower income families, that we only provide a limited number of services and most people think it’s really not for me.”

Then, the pandemic hit. Health departments were thrust into the spotlight, which Bergner says has had a positive and negative impact. A positive aspect, was that people realized there’s a lot more to their local health department then they imagined. But, on the flip side of that, Bergner says maybe there was too much more. “I think some people look at the health department and are leary of us because of what we’ve seen with masking mandates and some of the things that we’ve been told, well, does it work, does it not work and there’s certainly opinions on both sides.”

Bergner says the pandemic caused a split, with some health departments, like Newton County, issuing one set of guidelines while another department nearby, had a totally different perspective on the situation. “So there’s been some view in the public, can we trust our health care providers, can we trust public health? And, I’m sorry for that and I’m hopeful that we can regain the trust of the public because we’re supposed to be true advocates of science and what is best for the population and certainly I’ve tried to do that in my role as many others have as well.”

Bergner says he wants to remind the public, there’s much more to your local health department than just vaccines and WIC vouchers and he encourages everyone to stop by and learn more about what your tax dollars are helping to pay for.


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