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Columbia County Gets New Health Department Director:  Mark Lander is a man on a mission

Mark Lander
Mark Lander, the new Director of Public Health,  on his way to the podium to thank the Board for their confidence.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night Columbia County unanimously approved the appointment of Mark Lander as the County's new Director of Public Health. Before the vote, Commissioner Scarlet Frisina told the Board, "I was on the interview panel. He is an excellent choice." Chairman Bailey told the Board, "I don't think there is any stronger person that is going to be an advocate for rural public health." After the meeting the 22 year public health veteran told the Observer, "The people in Columbia County deserve a top notch health system."

The Columbia/Hamilton Counties' new public health director, Mark Lander is on a mission to make the Columbia/Hamilton public health care system the best in rural Florida.

Mr. Lander survived a rigorous selection process which included an eight member selection panel. This panel included a commissioner from Columbia and Hamilton counties; two representatives from the state health office in Tallahassee; and representatives from the school district, a community health partner and a representative from the surrounding counties.

After passing that hurdle, Mr. Lander had to be approved through the state Surgeon General’s office where they examined his educational background and weighed what he could bring to the table.

Finally, Mr. Lander had to be approved by the Hamilton and Columbia County, County Commissions.

"Rural public health is more than primary care."

Public Health Director Lander told the Observer, "In rural public health we are more than just primary care. We look at a lot of chronic issues, like issues that are tied into obesity. Two or three years ago we had a great chronic disease program. We had a chronic disease coordinator. You found out about the programs when you came into the health department. To me that is not enough.

The Observer asked, "Who visits the health dept?"

Director Lander: A lot of our clientele are uninsured. Columbia County has an uninsured population of about 22%. That is higher than the state averages. Hamilton County's uninsured rate is about 29%. This is a challenge for healthcare.

The Observer:  My understanding is that a large component of public health is related to education.

Director Lander:  That's right. A lot of the health issues in Columbia County are related to poor health habits. I think the department can do a better job in getting the word out. That is one of my goals – getting the word out. A lot of people don't realize what public healthcare services are available to them.

The Observer:  How much do you do with Lakeshore Hospital Authority and their indigent care program?

Director Lander:  We work a lot with the Hospital Authority, but it is more toward what public healthcare really is – collaborating with them on projects.

The Observer:  One of those projects was the mobile dental clinic. How is that going?

The mobile dental clinic is a great success story.

A great success story

Director Lander:  The mobile dental clinic is a great success story, but I still don't feel that our kids are getting all the care that's needed – kindergarten through third, fourth, fifth grade. This is one of the needs that we are going to push for in the coming year.

"We are also looking at the possibility of doing an on-site dental clinic at the Health Department. Jack Berry of the Hospital Authority is trying to help us get that established.

"Lisa Swisher, our senior dental hygienist, is also our dental program manager. Lisa is out right now beating the bushes to try and find grants that fit a community like ours. If we can find the grant money, I have the statistics."

"A lot of the problem is education – showing the children when they are young about dental hygiene and good dental habits."

The job of public health is finding solutions

The Observer:  Is the health department going to work on bringing a dental education program into the lower grades of the schools?

Director Lander:  That is one of the main tasks of public health. The main goal of public health is to get in the community; get with community partners; educate and find solutions. It's our job to find solutions.

The Observer:  You certainly sound like a man on a mission.

Director Lander:  I love rural north Florida and wouldn't want to live anywhere else. The people in Columbia County deserve a top notch health system. There are a lot of good health providers in this town and an excellent health network system. I think we need to educate the people on how to use it.

The Observer:  Thanks for your time and good luck.

Director Lander:  Thank you. 

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