Dr. Joseph Pepe, the administrator at the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County, spoke at the Democratic Women’s Club (DWC) meeting on September 14, 2020. He introduced himself as a native Floridian, who grew up as a child of modest means, raised by his mother and grandmother. His childhood experiences led to his interest in public health and education. In addition to his administrative work, Dr. Pepe has a background in higher education, teaching business administration, and emergency management.
Dr. Pepe started with an overview of the Health Department’s Programs and Services, which include Clinical, Dental and Nutrition Services; Wellness Programs; Community Health Planning and Statistics; Environmental Health; Emergency Preparedness; and Infectious Disease Services.
In his work, Dr. Pepe uses data and evidence that directly affect health outcomes as prime factors in developing health care for the county. He especially focuses on research that shows the significant effects of Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) on long-term health outcomes, such as poverty, homelessness, incarcerated parents, moving, and changing schools. The Health Department follows a process of defining problems, identifying risks and factors, developing strategies to meet the problem, and then facilitating the adoption of the strategies.
He also pointed out that a county’s health status has a huge impact on the county’s economy. He provided various examples of returns on investment for the taxpayers. For example, a $1 investment in a vaccine yields a $10 return for the taxpayers. He noted that the Affordable Care Act helped raise health insurance coverage in Charlotte County to 88.7%. Data seem to indicate that it would be a wiser investment to buy insurance for the area’s homeless rather than to pay or absorb their medical costs after the fact.
Pepe provided other examples of how the Health Department is involved in providing services and programs that will impact both the health and the economy of the county, including sidewalks, bike trails, parks, and community-supported competitive sports. The department is also involved in family planning education, dental care, and WIC. The department programs provide access to healthier lifestyles and behaviors, which in turn, make the community more economically attractive and vital.
He says that COVID-19 has been relatively stable in Charlotte County because of protective measures. He says the county has enough hospital and ventilator capacity at the moment, and Charlotte County does do contact tracing. The county has added 25 additional personnel and some nursing staff to conduct the tracing activities. The Health Department is also working closely with schools with regard to monitoring cases and prevention.
He did report that the COVID-19 affected age groups are changing. The 45 to 64 year-old group is growing, with the median age of infection now at 54 instead of the early 70s as it was earlier in the pandemic. He reported that 17 individuals in the county’s ICUs are under age 65. The county’s focus is now moving toward preparing for distribution when a vaccine becomes available.
More information about the Charlotte County Department Health is available at http://charlotte.floridahealth.gov/