New director starting small

Johnny Woodard Staff Reporter

August 31, 2013

New Scotland County Department of Public Health Director David Jenkins already has big plans for the department, and he says fulfilling them will start with some small changes.

Not yet on the job a month, Jenkins said this week that he has identified more than a dozen short- and long-term goals for the department after a series of meetings with staff.

“I have had the opportunity to sit down with a big portion of the staff … starting with the management team, trying to get input from them.”

When speaking with health department workers, Jenkins said he typically asks a set series of questions: “I ask them what they do, what tools they need. I also ask them what they think the department does well and what it may need improvement on. I ask them if they feel like they have the support of their supervisor and what their top three priorities are for (their) program.”

Jenkins said he also asks staff what their expectations are of him.

“That is a big part of what I believe in. A bottom up, top down style of management. Being as transparent as possible so that people know what is going on.”

According to Jenkins, a number of “good suggestions on areas of improvement” came from the meetings.

“I also learned that we provide really good customer care here. But there are some areas we can look at to try to improve efficiency,” he said.

On Aug. 20 Jenkins participated in his first meeting with the board of health, delivering a slide show presentation that included financial information as well as a series of short and long term goals for his department.

Among the short term goals Jenkins presented were a few items that have already been initiated.

“These past few weeks are the first weeks the health department has been opened during lunch time,” Jenkins explained. The health department is now open later on Saturdays, as well. Both changes seemed obvious, he said.

Even prior to accepting the position, during an interview with county officials Jenkins said he identified the lunch time closings as an opportunity to immediately improve the quality of the department’s service.

“For some reason it was closed at noon for lunch, and that was something we changed. My board of health mentioned it in the interview process, and I thought (the department) could just come up with staggered lunches or something.”

Jenkins said the lunch time closings were an example of something that continued to be done because of tradition.

“Sometimes when you come into a place there are certain processes where people say when they are asked why they are doing them, ‘Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.’”

Part of Jenkins’ challenge as director will be to root out those process relics, he said.

“I give all the thanks in the world to the staff for making that change. They were happy to do it.”

Another pressing short term goal is examining how the Affordable Care Act – most of which is going into effect in 2014 – will influence the public health department.

“We need to look there for opportunities and also for possibly threats to public health and try to adjust to that.”

Other short term goals are:

-Looking at the budget and for alternative sources of revenue. “We can increase efficiency by collaborating with other agencies in the county and working with other counties on special projects.”

-Determining public health priorities and examining the use of logos, marketing and the department’s mission statement.

-Public education and outreach. “We already provide some of that, but are we actually getting to our target population? A lot of people may not even know what the department provides.”

-Organizational assessment. “I want to get a better understanding of staff workload.”

-Re-accreditation. “We have got to continue to meet those benchmarks. That’s just about a full time job itself.”

In the longer term, Jenkins said that he hopes to find ways to “strengthen the budget,” and ensure that the county is getting the most out for its money. A number of short and long term goals are related to the department’s financial state and efficiency, which Jenkins said can be improved through partnerships and, potentially, the use of technology.

Additional long-term goals:

-Expand programs and services to make sure needs are met.

-Re-accreditation again in 2016.

-Further evaluate and make use of technology, but being mindful that technology has a price tag attached to it.

In addition to the implementation of staggered lunches, Jenkins said that another “good thing that we had come from a meeting with animal control, the Humane Society, the county manager and the city manager” was the streamlining of how animal control matters are dealt with in court.

Rather than a scattered court dates, humane society workers and animal control officials will have specific, regular dates for court appearances.

“That’s quite an accomplishment. Now they’ll be able to get to that process and move on with it (faster). Animal control can receive 100 calls per week on those types of issues. Those guys stay real busy.

“That goes back to making sure we have the right kinds of processes in place for efficiency,” Jenkins said, giving credit to his staff for the adjustments so far.

“I’m very excited and enthusiastic about making these improvements and also about the future.”