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Posted on July 29, 2019 at 10:15 AM by Kari Bray
January 1, 1959.
“Gunsmoke” was the must-see television show.
Iowa beat California in the 45th Rose Bowl.
People were grooving to “The Chipmunk Song.” (Yes, the holiday jam with a plaintive squeak of “I still want a hula hoop” topped the charts.)
And the Snohomish Health District had just been born.
Two months earlier, in November 1958, the Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution to merge the Snohomish County and Everett health departments. That change took effect on the first day of the new year.
To be clear, this wasn’t the birth of public health in the county. That’s been around for more than a century.
The first public health nurse – Mrs. Lavinia Gordon – arrived here in 1913 to focus on stopping the spread of tuberculosis, then called “consumption.” Public health efforts also were underway to curb the Spanish Influenza epidemic in 1918, to inspect dairies and slaughterhouses in the 1940s and 50s, and to respond to a deadly smallpox outbreak in 1946 – the jail and hospital were quarantined and vaccination stations set up around Everett, along with an isolation ward at Paine Field.
Investigating, containing, and preventing outbreaks remain core tasks of public health today. Our team of nurses and other disease investigators would no doubt have made Mrs. Gordon proud with their work on the measles outbreak that has affected multiple counties in Washington.
So, no, public health wasn’t new in 1959.
The new part was having a single agency serve the entire county. The District was housed in an old apartment building off Rockefeller. Dr. Roger Knipe (in photo) served as health officer, with Dr. Clifford Anderson taking over after Knipe’s death three years later.
When the District first formed, the county’s sanitary codes were new and the environmental health team was growing. As late as 1955, there were no septic tank regulations, solid waste regulations, county plumbing code or sanitary code to enforce. As time went on, the link between our health and the health of our environment became more clear. Environmental Health is now a key piece of our work: food safety, clean water, safe septic systems, hazardous waste management, and more.
During its first decade, the Snohomish Health District stayed busy. Staff started a program to license sewage disposal designers, finished plans for an immunization clinic in the south part of the county, and helped establish the first birth control clinic in the county. The District moved to offices in the newly finished county courthouse addition, but would later outgrow the space and scatter across multiple buildings in Everett.
A new health officer, Dr. Claris Hyatt, took over in 1970. She served 16 years and left behind a 41-page report reflecting on her time. She was there when the first satellite offices opened in Lynnwood and Sultan, and when staff vaccinated more than 33,000 children against Rubella as part of a national campaign to reduce birth defects. For a while, the Health District managed the county’s detoxification facility at Paine Field. Dr. Hyatt also saw the end of tuberculosis sanatoriums thanks to advances in treatment.
“It is my hope,” Dr. Hyatt wrote, “that the Board and staff will look to the future with enthusiasm and forge ahead to levels of new achievement under the leadership of the new health officers.”
Another longtime employee, David Stockton, wrote about his time at the Health District in “A Special Book for a Special Time.” When he retired in 1985, he was the only employee who had been with the Health District since it formed.
“I represented the end of an era,” he said in an interview earlier this year. He’s now in his 90s and living in Oregon.
Stockton spent nearly 30 years at the Health District. He started as a sanitarian hired to tackle a hefty backlog of inspections. He retired as deputy administrator. One of his proudest achievements was working with County leaders and the Emander Community Club to clean up a landfill and create McCollum Park.
Dr. Ward Hinds took over as health officer in 1986. Five years later, the District moved into its new Everett headquarters at 3020 Rucker Ave. The District purchased the building – where it remains today – for $5.1 million, with some financial support from the county, cities and towns.
Around 1997, the Board of Health took its current form, with 15 members – all five County Council members and 10 city representatives.
Dr. Hinds was the longest serving health officer to date. Dr. Gary Goldbaum replaced him in 2007, which brings us to the District’s more recent years.
There was the H1N1 influenza (Swine Flu) outbreak in 2009, when the District helped distribute vaccines for 26,000 people over the course of three days. Our first Community Health Assessment – a report that looks at health-related issues in the county – was completed that same year. The second such assessment wrapped up in 2013, identifying youth physical abuse, suicide, and obesity as top concerns. In 2014, a Community Health Improvement Plan was implemented to address those issues. That was also the year of the devastating mudslide near Oso, where 43 people died; Health District staff and volunteers responded.
Another busy year in 2016: multiple cases of Zika, an E. coli outbreak involving a child care facility, and the Board of Health became the second in Washington to require that manufacturers and distributors pay for safe disposal of unused medications.
Dr. Goldbaum retired in 2017. Given the growth in Snohomish County, and the complexity in disease response and emerging threats, his position was split in two. Jefferson Ketchel was named the agency’s first administrator, and a new health officer was hired, Dr. Mark Beatty.
Opioids have become a significant health and safety issue. In the summers of 2017 and 2018, the Health District conducted surveys to capture the number of opioid overdoses in a single week. The District has joined a multi-agency emergency effort to address the opioid epidemic. Recently, the Health District released a report based on months of in-depth research to estimate the number of people in the county who are misusing opioids or suffering from opioid use disorder.
Expect research, data and partnerships to continue to play major roles for the Health District as we look to the future.
For 60 years, we’ve been proud to serve the people of Snohomish County. Moving forward, we’ll focus on finding the most effective ways to address health concerns and connect with the community.
Speaking of connections: Welcome to our new blog! Public Health Essentials is a place to highlight the work of the Snohomish Health District as well as share health-related information and tips. But we promise not to spam your inboxes. Look for new posts just a few times a month.
Subscribe or check back for updates about the big stuff—yeah, we’re looking at you, measles outbreak—and a variety of other content, too. Have an idea for a topic, or a question that you’d like to see answered? We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line at SHDInfo@snohd.org.
Public health covers a lot of territory, and we have a lot of stories. We can’t wait to share them with you.
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