BEATRICE – The head of a public health agency that serves southeast Nebraska says her staff is welcoming a return to focusing efforts on something other than Covid-19.

Although the pandemic remains with new variants of the coronavirus and development of additional booster vaccines, Kim Showalter of Public Health Solutions says it’s different from the days when the district focused primarily on risk dials and the changing federal guidance for dealing with the coronavirus.

"We're not past the pandemic entirely, but now that we're not in extreme crisis response mode, we're very happy to be getting back to the things that were important before the pandemic....and they're still really important and some of them were really highlighted during the pandemic."

Showalter is Director of the five-county Public Health Solutions…serving about 53,000 people. Gage County is the largest of the district that includes Saline, Jefferson, Thayer and Fillmore Counties.  Showalter said the district is resuming focus on priority health issues that remain following the height of the pandemic.

"I became the health director less than two years before the pandemic started, so I really hadn't gotten on my feet before the rug was really pulled out from under my feet. We didn't get a great start on a lot of the things we wanted to do. Two things that we're really focusing on now because of the pandemic....mental health and health equity. We know that we're going to be seeing the effects of mental health and behavioral health for a while after the pandemic and all of the things that were brought with it. We also know that health equity....there were not issues that were caused by the pandemic...but it certainly highlighted the people who didn't have access to the things they needed to keep them safe and healthy."

Showalter says the district will be reassessing priority health issues in the five counties starting this next year. One of the key issues, she says, is environmental health. She said it may be possible to hire a coordinator in that area by using ARPA funding allocated to the state. 

"That person would do things like work with your sheriff on meth houses and cleanup....and mold...and bedbug infestations and all those things we get called about, but don't have the resources to effect much change in. Fortunately, the state of Nebraska in conjunction with the health department is writing a huge grant...and that will give us three to five years of enough money to be able to hire an environmental coordinator."

Showalter spoke with the Gage County Board on Wednesday, whose chairman said the district has been very responsive to questions and needs of the county during the pandemic.