The Loudoun County Health Department celebrated 75 years since its creation in August.
The county Board of Supervisors first approved the creation of a health department on August 25, 1941, appointing Dr. C. E. Waller as the county’s first health official and Bess McClung as the county’s nurse. The country was still months away from the attack on Pearl Harbor and entering World War II.
At the time the biggest health problems were diseases like polio, diphtheria, mumps, and rubella. This was before the widespread advent of vaccination, said the current head of the health department, Dr. David Goodfriend.
“Fortunately, we have a lot less of that now, so a lot more of our focus is on how we get these folks vaccinated,” Goodfriend said. His department works with doctors and families to make sure everyone’s vaccinated, especially as the kids head to school.
A lot has changed in 75 years, although there’s still only one doctor, Goodfriend. By the same token, he said, “our mission has remained the same.”
“The health department has about 90 employees now, but we’re still structured about the same way,” Goodfriend said. Sanitation professionals check on wells, septic systems, restaurants, and so on. Meanwhile, nurses and nutritionists try to get help to people who have trouble accessing medical care, including at clinics in Leesburg and Ashburn. The department also helps keep the county ready for public health emergencies like flu pandemics or bioterrorism.
The work continues today with Zika spreading to the United States and news of a statewide hepatitis A outbreak at Tropical Smoothie Cafe. In cases like those, the health department swings into action, interviewing affected people and their contacts to try to limit the spread.
“We want to prevent folks from getting sick, but if they do get sick, we want to limit the spread of the infection,” Goodfriend said.
Loudoun’s health department, which was the first in Virginia to win accreditation from the national nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board, continues to adapt.
“One of the things we’re looking to change is, where there’s a better option for folks to get service in the private sector, we want to facilitate that,” Goodfriend said. “So for example, we used to do all of our prenatal care for low-income women ourselves, and about five years ago or so we entered into an agreement with the hospital. So now these women are getting much better care through hospital-based clinics.”
As the department and the public need continues to evolve, the question becomes which services the private sector can deliver better or cheaper, and how the department can connect people to that care.
“We may be doing less patient care, and doing more work in trying to get folks into care, rather than providing the care ourselves,” Goodfriend said.
Learn more about the Loudoun County Health Department at Loudoun.gov/health.