Adair County Health Department

April 29, 2019 (Updated)

The earliest history of the Adair County Health Department is documented in a priceless collection of scrapbooks filled with newspaper articles. The scrapbooks, now displayed in the entry foyer of the lower level of the health department, contain a fascinating look at the early years of public health in Adair County and highlight many differences, yet also many similarities, between that first health department and the health department of today.

An article from the December 16, 1931 issue of the Adair County News was headlined “County Health Unit Available”. The article stated that the Adair County Fiscal Court had appropriated $500, which would be supplemented by $6,500 from the State Board of Health, to hire a full-time doctor and nurse for the county health unit. The “chief work” of the unit would be “to improve sanitary conditions over the county and practice preventative medicine free of charge to the needy, including vaccinations and other steps necessary to prevent the spread of contagious diseases.” Another article, dated December 30, 1931, announced that Dr. N. A. Mercer had been elected to head the unit.

“Health Unit Leases Offices-Nurse Arrives this Week” was the headline of an article from January 13, 1932. It announced that the Adair County Health Department would be housed in an office located over the Paull Drug Company and that Miss Rose Alexander would be arriving that week to be the first nurse for the health department. It was noted that the immediate problem of the new health unit would be the control and prevention of typhoid fever, with 17 deaths have occurred in the past year in the county and also noted that the county was considered to be a source for other cases occurring in the state. The dire need for typhoid control and prevention was made evident in a later article, dated February 24, 1932, that told of the death of a third daughter of an Adair County family; with all three deaths having occurred within four months of each other. Subsequent articles outlined the health department’s plan to combat typhoid with a vaccine program and water testing.

The effectiveness of the health department’s plan for typhoid eradication was made clear in another later article from March 11, 1936. That article stated that in 1931, there were 255 reported cases of typhoid in the county, with 22 deaths. In 1935, four years after the establishment of the health department, cases had dropped to 26 total, with two deaths.

Articles from the following years continue to reveal advancements in public health in Adair County:

January 15, 1936- A vaccine for whooping cough has been developed and will be available at the Adair County Health Department.

February 26, 1936-An additional nurse and three clerical aides have been added to the staff at the Adair County Health Department.

March 18, 1936-The staff at the Adair County Health Department now consists of a doctor, two health nurses, a health officer, county sanitary supervisor, sanitary inspector, four clerks (three furnished by the WPA) and several Lindsey Wilson College students who help part-time in the office.

June 17, 1936-For the first time in 75 years, there are no reported cases of typhoid fever in Adair County.

In the following years, articles detail the health department’s continuing efforts to prevent and treat communicable diseases in the county, including tuberculosis, polio, and diphtheria. Strides were also made in the infrastructure of Columbia such as city water and sewer, and the sanitarian staff was hard at work overseeing the building of approved “privies” for private homes and public buildings and ensuring safe water sources for the county schools and other public facilities, as well as homes.

On April 23, 1962, the Adair County Board of Health met and voted to pass a resolution to be drawn up and presented to the Fiscal Court to impose a Public Health Tax for the county, which would give the department additional staff as well as fund a new office. The department later moved into offices above Dr. Loy’s office, then into an existing building behind the current municipal building.

The 1960s and ’70s saw an increase in services offered by the health department, such as family planning clinics, mass oral polio immunization clinics and the Early Periodic Screening and Diagnostic program. The department was also busy ensuring public safety by addressing concerns regarding the condition of older buildings in town, particularly fire hazards and general sanitation issues.

In the early 1980s, in the face of federal funding cuts, more local money was needed to continue the existing services and programs provided by the health department, and to maintain the staffing needed for those programs. Funding from the state was also cut to independent single-county health departments and in 1981, the board began to consider joining a district. In February 1982 the Adair County Health Department became part of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.

In 1989, the health department moved into a newly constructed, approximate 16,000 square foot facility located at 801 Westlake Drive, adjacent to the Westlake Regional Hospital. The building was named in honor of Dr. James C. Salato, a beloved Adair County physician who served many years on the Board of Health. In November 1997, a note-burning ceremony was held to commemorate the pay-off of the loan for the building. Dr. Roger D. Smith, DMD, Chairman of the Adair County Board of Health, noted that the building was paid off 27 years early, saving the taxpayers of Adair County a great deal of money in interest.

In 2003, a 1,800 square foot addition was added to expand the waiting room and the business and environmental services offices. Subsequent remodeling was later completed to improve patient flow in the clinic area and to construct larger offices for Health Education and the expanding HANDS Program staff.

In 2008, the basement was also remodeled and now houses the offices of Diabetes Education Program as well as the HANDS staff, and a large conference room. The conference room is utilized for many classes offered by the health department, such as smoking cessation, diabetes education, and septic installer classes. Video-conferencing equipment also enables local staff to connect with the state, district and other health departments for meetings, continuing education conferences, and trainings. The health department also hosts several meetings held in conjunction with some of our community partners, such as KY-ASAP (Agency for Substance Abuse Policy) and Adair County WATCH (Working Actively Toward Community Health).

In September 2017, Adair was the second county in the district to open a syringe exchange program.  The goal of the program is to decrease the spread of blood-borne diseases, such as Hepatitis C and HIV, by providing clean equipment, educating about the diseases and requiring syringes to be brought back to the health department for safe disposal on a one to one basis.  Other services are offered while the participants are here for the syringe exchange such as counseling and referrals to rehabilitation.

The Adair County Health Department staff has grown considerably since those early days when it was staffed by one doctor and one nurse. As of 2019, 12 total staff members are based here to serve the needs of the citizens of Adair County. We have a dedicated local Board of Health who are faithful in their service to the Board and the citizens of our county. Three of those Board members also serve on the District Board, Adair County Judge/Executive Gale Cowan, Matt Jackson RPh, Shantila Rexroat DVM.

We are proudly committed to the mission and vision statements of the Lake Cumberland District Health Department:

Mission Statement:

The Lake Cumberland District Health Department will prevent illness and injury, promote good health practices and assure a safe environment.

Vision Statement:

The Lake Cumberland District Health Department will be a leader in preventive health care, health education, and environmental monitoring in collaboration with the public and private sectors. We will show compassion and respect as we strive to improve the health of our communities.