Deborah Baker and Patty McClendon have worked together at the Pulaski County Health Department for years. Deborah is the Director of the Health Department, and Patty is the Public Health Program Director.
They spoke about how they have benefited from public health in the past, and how their duties at the health department go beyond simply giving shots.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Patty: I did have those needs growing up as I kid. I know what they're going through. I know what it is for somebody to say, "Can't help ya."
I think that the people the work here have to have that compassion for other people because it's hard to work with people if you don't have a compassion for them, and if you don't understand.
Deborah: And being a young couple, we had younger kids when I started here, you know, we don't have a whole lot of money. We were on WIC. We - there was a lot of times that we heavily depended upon the WIC program, and we're very grateful for it.
And so I think - I still feel strongly about that program. That there's such a benefit to so many young parents or maybe grandparents that have their grandkids now.
I came when I was pregnant with my first one - I came and got a temp card and started my Medicaid through the Health Department. So there's a lot of services that I used at a younger age, and it was so helpful to start that road, and I think that there's a lot of times that we can help people when they don't know what else to do or...
Patty: And they say a lot of people still aren't aware of our programs that we have, and the WIC one is so beneficial. Not only do they get their foods and their milks and their cheeses and different things - their formulas for their babies, but they also get a lot of education on how to utilize those.
Deborah: And then even support.
Deborah: Sometimes they just have questions on nutrition for their kids or they wanna breastfeed and they're having a lot of trouble.
So after I came to work here, I learned a lot of that too. I learned even more being here, and I was like, "Oh. I wish I would have known that. I just wish I would have known that one."
I think that's why maybe sometimes I strive a little bit harder - want to do more - because I want those new young moms to know those things that I didn't.
Deborah: Or know that there's somebody there.
Patty: And to enjoy being a Mom.
Deborah: And somebody there to help support them.
I think it's important that we try to share that we're here to help them, and public health is often invisible - a lot of the time people don't know what we do.
Patty: We have a - the kiddos come in and get their immunizations. I guess I'll always remember this one little boy that came in, and he was autistic.
I kinda recognized it right away, and his dad held him, and I give him a shot and everything and when he got done he was just sobbing, and I couldn't stand, and I picked him up. I just held him and patted him, and he just cuddled down to me.
When he calmed down, I sat him down, and his Dad looked at me and said, "Thank you," and I said, "It's my job," and he said, "No. You have no idea."
It just done something to me that I was able to comfort that little boy, you know.
Deborah: And Patty's like our surrogate grandma.
Patty: But we see that a lot of people have needs. We can't meet all those needs, and if we can't meet them - we try to refer them.
You know, what would be on my wish list? More funding for public health. That we wouldn't only be a preventative place, but also that we'd be able to do those extra things that people need.
Deborah: I don't see patients all the time, but if I would help one person a year - it would be worth it to me.