The Chickahominy Health District has a dedicated director for the first time in a few years.
The district, which is headquartered in the Hanover Health Department offices, has had only acting and interim directors since the retirement of Dr. Ted Tweel in 2009.
Dr. Tom Franck took over Jan. 1, bringing experience in both public health and private practice.
He has specialized in family medicine, preventative medicine, and sports medicine, and he has worked for the Va. Department of Health in different capacities.
He was deputy director for the Chesterfield Health Department and health director for the Rappahannock Health District. He was also a specialist in emergency preparedness and response for VDH.
Whereas private physicians focus on individual patients, public health is concerned with populations.
“In public health, your patient is really the whole community,” Franck said.
“We see ourselves as evaluating or assessing the community, finding out what’s going right and what’s going wrong with the health of the community, and then putting into place policies and implementations that actually improve the health of the community,” he continued.
A health department has three core responsibilities, according to Franck: protecting the health of the community, protecting the environment, and improving the community’s health through the promotion of wellness.
Franck said he wants to complete a community health assessment to give him “an idea of really what’s going on in the community right now—what does the health of the community look like presently?”
That data would be used to try “to implement some plans that will actually see an improvement in the health of the community over the next several years.”
“Ultimately my goal is to improve the health of the whole community,” Franck added.
Franck intends to maintain the health district’s current programs and there is one he’d like to add.
“One program I would like to see added would be a program that emphasizes chronic disease and really looking at chronic disease and the causes of chronic disease,” he explained.
“Chronic diseases are actually the number one killer in the United States, and Hanover is no different, and that includes diseases like heart disease, cancer, and stroke,” Franck continued.
He wants to look at the underlying causes of chronic diseases, such as tobacco use, diet, and lack of physical activity.
“If we can address those issues, I think we can make a huge impact on the health of the community,” Franck said.
Franck said that public health has been improving and lengthening people’s lives since the early 1900s, when sanitation and hygiene programs were implemented. That continued with immunization programs. The next step is to examine causes of chronic diseases.
He noted that public health departments are also responsible for issues related to food safety and ensuring clean drinking water.
“Every day you may go out to a restaurant or a fast food restaurant, and the fact that the food that you eat is safe is to a large degree a public health function,” he said.
So far, Franck is impressed with his health district staff, though there are positions that still need to be filled.
“We do have a shortage of staff right now, and we’re working to fix that shortage and fill those positions,” he said. “But the staff that we do have are outstanding individuals who really care about their community.”
As director of the Chickahominy Health District, Franck serves Hanover, Charles City, Goochland, and New Kent counties.
“We [in public health] are always there in trying to improve the health of the community and protect people from diseases, as well as protect the environment,” Franck said.