When it comes to germs, infection and disease, Fox Army Health Center’s public health nurses are Team Redstone’s first line of defense.
“Public health nurses care for entire populations,” Fox commander Col. William Darby said. “By working with whole communities, public health nurses are able to educate people about health issues as well as improve community health and safety.”
Through education, assessment, treatment, counseling and appropriate follow-up, Fox’s public health nurses work day in and day out to ensure members of the Arsenal’s work force aren’t sidelined by things like tuberculosis, the flu, STDs or other communicable diseases.
“Our main goal is keeping the community safe and to try to stop the spread of infection,” said public health nurse Sonya Roberts.
The nurses offer a wide spectrum of services on the installation, including: ensuring early assessment, treatment and follow-up after the diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases; decreasing the spread of tuberculosis by screening for TB and initiating treatment where needed; providing annual and as needed training to Child Youth and School Services personnel on topics such as medication administration, communicable diseases, sudden infant death syndrome, blood-borne pathogens and treatment therapies; conducting tobacco cessation classes; assisting in the Special Needs Accommodation Process; and managing the flu campaign.
“Preventive medicine is all about infectious disease, making sure everybody stays healthy and doesn’t spread their germs,” said Barbara Anderson, who is in charge of decreasing the spread of tuberculosis on post.
Anderson screens individuals at high risk for tuberculosis, such as Soldiers who have been deployed to an area of the world with a high incidence of TB, through a skin test. If the test comes back positive and the individual does not have active TB, the nurses will place him or her on isoniazid for nine months, which clears the TB germ from the person’s body before it can wake up and become a case of active TB. Rarely do the nurses find a case of active TB.
“We try to kill that germ before it causes problems, because we want to keep people healthy,” Anderson said.
As health consultants to FMWR’s CYSS program, the nurses perform regular inspections of the child development centers to ensure that their health, safety and sanitation practices are up to standard, all children’s immunizations are up to date and that staff are also free of infection and healthy enough to work around children. If a child becomes ill, part of their responsibility is informing parents to prevent the spread of infection.
“We don’t want any kind of communicable outbreaks, but if we do have one, we have to find the peak, the point of infection, to ensure that we keep our community safe,” Roberts said. “The main thing we stress is hand washing, and making sure the children are healthy so that parents don’t lose time at work.”
One of those crucial times each year is the flu season. Positive cases of the flu are still being reported, according to Maj. Debra Murray, chief of preventive medicine at Fox, and there are still doses of the flu vaccine available. The season officially ends in May-June. The nurses keep track of the number of individuals hospitalized on military installations across the country due to the flu, and are required to report any cases here on Redstone Arsenal.
“There have been cases this year of people who have had the vaccine and still got the flu,” Murray said. “A lot of that has to do with the timing and what’s in the vaccine. They try to get it right, but every year they don’t always get it right.”
The nurses are also responsible for participating in SNAP, the Special Needs Accommodation Process. The nurses check to make sure a childcare facility on post is capable of accommodating that child’s special needs, whether it be dietary concerns such as an allergy to peanuts, ADHD or a physical disability, and then determine the best accommodations needed for that child.
Guided by a mission to protect and promote health within the community, Fox’s public health nurses are there to ensure Soldiers are always fit to fight, as well as the civilians who work day in and day out to support them.