Health department offers range of services

Combining her skills in nursing and organization enables Diedre Serene to promote the well-being of others.

As director of the Marion County Health Department, Serene oversees health, safety and nutrition programs that are available to county residents.

?We?re here to help people help themselves,? Serene said about the overall goal for which she and her staff strive.

The health department?s professional staff includes a physician consultant, a licensed practical nurse, registered dietician, secretary, office manager, a Healthy Start home visitor and Serene as administrator and registered nurse.

Serene began work as full-time administrator for the county health department in February 1988. In May 1995, she moved to part-time in the department, and that fall started working as school nurse for USD 410 in Hillsboro.

?During the school year, I put 20 hours in at the school and then 20 hours here,? said Serene, who returned as health department administrator in May 2004. ?I?m part-time at both places?usually I?m at the school in the mornings and afternoons (at the health department).?

Serene, who grew up in Hillsboro, earned a bachelor of nursing degree from the University of Kansas. Her college career, however, began at Bethel College in Newton where she had intended to major in home economics with plans to teach.

But she changed her course of study to nursing, which attributes to experiences she had working as a nurse aid.

Her immediate family also includes other medical professionals–one brother, Layne Reusser, is a cardiologist and the other, Ty Reusser, is a dentist.

?My mother is a nurse?she?s retired,? Serene said about her mother, Shirley Reusser.

After graduating from KU, she was employed at University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo.

?I loved surgery,? Serene said about her work at the medical center. After she got married to husband Bruce, she worked at the Herington hospital where her responsibilities ranged from delivering babies to overseeing cardiac patients.

?Back then you had to do everything,? she said. ?I didn?t feel that you could get good at (a particular area).?or keep up-to-date on everything.?

Now, Serene said, much of her job involves administrating grants that enable the health department to provide its services and programs.

The Childcare Licensing and Registration grant covers licensing and registering family childcare homes, preschools and child centers.

?We have a surveyor that will go out and do these surveys (of the childcare programs),? Serene said. ?But our registered (child-care) homes are not surveyed. They just get a visit when there?s complaint.?

The Immunization Action Program enables the health department to conduct professional clinics, such as those for seasonal flu, in other locations in the county, she said.

?Or we have special clinics here (at the office) outside of our normal working hours,? she added.

The Maternal Child Heath grant covers the Healthy Start home visitor program, which provides support for pregnant women and families with a newborn, Serene said. Some hospitals from surrounding counties that deliver babies give out cards about the program to notify potential participants.

The support for families with young children is enhanced with the Women, Infants and Children program, commonly referred to as WIC.

?That?s a whole program in itself because that program has quite a bit of federal dollars for it,? she said.

An income-based program, WIC supplies food vouchers and address nutrition issues for pregnant, breastfeeding and post partum women, infants and children up to age 5.

?We do WIC every Thursdays,? Serene said.

Participants come in every three months to pick up their checks as well as basic heath checks for the child, such as hemoglobin, height and weight, she said.

Also, the health department collaborates with other partners in the county, such as Community in Schools. The Comprehensive Early Childhood Health Initiative?CHECHI?involves one such grant.

?The Healthy Start home visitor and myself, as a nurse, go out on visits with women of children up the age of 3,? Serene said.

Marion County, she said, has an advantage when working with local agencies compared to those counties with large populations such as Sedgwick and Johnson, which often have to deal with territoriality issues.

?Geographically (Marion County) is large, but population-wise we?re one of the smaller groups,? Serene said. ?We pretty much know everybody and have a good rapport with partners.?

Another health department partner is Parents as Teachers, which also works closely with the school districts.

?We also have the Preparedness for Bioterrorism that actually was developed after the 9/11 disaster that covers a seven-county area we are a part of,? she said. ?That covers any kind of disaster, flooding, ice storms or attack.?

Serene said local response to the recent H1N1 pandemic fell under the umbrella of that grant. The health department served as a provider of the H1N1 vaccine in the county.

?For pandemics, we get extra funding because the state gets federal funding and that trickles down to us,? she said. ?We are still supposed to vaccinate people who continue to come in. The H1N1 is actually going to be a seasonal vaccine. Until we get our seasonal flu (vaccine), we?re supposed to (continue with the H1N1 vaccinations).?

Education is a significant part of the health department?s support services, such as the Safe Kids Program.

?We?re able to buy car seats through this program at cost and then we sell them at cost,? Serene said. ?We have two technicians that will install them in cars. And if anybody has bought a car seat anywhere else wants us to help them properly install or check the seats.?

Serene recommends that might participants call ahead to make sure one of the two technicians are onsite at the health department.

Away from her job, Serene?s priorities include husband Bruce and their three children: Gavin, a junior at Tabor College; Mieka, a freshman at Wichita State University who plans to study nursing; and Callie, a junior at Hillsboro High School.

Serene said she also enjoys being outside, especially hiking. For the past two summers, she joined friends on a hiking trip to Colorado. This year she started training with a friend to take another trip.

?We had started doing some interval training and started jogging and I got an ankle fracture as a result of a stress fracture,? she said.

Althought the injury prevented her from hiking this year, Serene said they have reservations for the Grand Canyon next summer.?

?We?re going to hike the Grand Canyon,? she said. ?We?re going to hike down, stay one night and hike back.?

On the job, Serene said she faces the challenge of providing health information and support for the different populations throughout the country.

?We try to manage that through all of our local partners by getting information out through those offices, word of mouth and e-mails,? she said, adding such information can also be accessed ?Departments? link of Marion County Web site.

The challenge of conveying information also involves keeping track of inevitable changes related to the health department?s programs and services.

?That?s a constant thing in the health and medical fields?you can count on change,? Serene said. ?The only thing that stays the same is the change.?

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