Caloosa Belle

Dr. Pepe leading county health department

Dr. Joseph Pepe, new Director of the Hendry/Glades Health Department. (submitted photo)

“This is an exciting time for public health,” Dr. Joseph Pepe, new Director of the Hendry/Glades Health Department, notes as he shared a little about his vision for the Hendry/Glades offices. He said his vision for the future is closely aligned with that of previous Director Pat Dobbins, a zealous advocate to remedy our limited resources and he echoes the words of previous directors – that at the state level Hendry/Glades’ needs are often not understood.

He became interim director when Pat Dobbins retired.

Dr. Pepe is busy building and strengthening partnerships with other offices and programs and will be surveying the menu of resources to target funding and existing resources.

He has already made some progress in acquiring services, such as partnering with Tax Collector Pat Langford, to make birth certificates available in that office.

In other areas he wants to protect first responders and medical staffs with Personal Protection Equipment in case of infectious disease outbreaks such as ebola and stockpile protective equipment. He said that Emergency Management Director Brian Newhouse is a partner in this health initiative. His focus is on increasing outreach with a priority on equipment. Dr. Pepe holds a doctorate degree in Education from Nova Southeastern University’s Fischler School of Education and Human Services, a Master’s Degree in Administration from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology/Sociology from the University of South Florida. He is a professor at Barry University teaching graduate courses in administration as part of their Masters in Administration and Emergency Management Degrees. Dr. Pepe has served as the Executive Vice President of Administration at Hodges University and Executive Director at Nova Southeastern University.

Over the years, he has launched several medical and allied health programs, fostered community partnerships such as the Medical Reserve Corp and integrated the first American Legion Post on a college campus to support returning veterans.

Another program he is partnering with the school district to complete is a school-based dental sealant program to begin in January. The plan is to seal adult molars of fifth graders and educate kids on the importance of oral hygiene. He hopes to be able to expand this program to middle school students. Focusing on dental care for youth will result in healthier adults, he said.

The health department now has two employees certified in car safety seats and expects to be able to distribute the seats at no cost.

A home visitation program will help to assess child safety. Healthy food choices and access to care are also vital to residents, he believes.

The county is a vital partner, maintaining the department’s buildings. The lack of transportation for access to care is an ongoing concern.

Human trafficking is another area of concern that he hopes to alleviate with education and outreach. He is also building a partnership with Crossroads Behavioral Health to reduce risky behavior.

He also wants to begin educational initiatives on abstinence, Making Right Choices – part of a curriculum on peer pressure and risk factors targeting elementary students going into middle school. This is a program that involves the family in discussions at school that could be expanded to other grades, funding permitting. He also hopes to focus on stemming teen pregnancy and especially recurring teen pregnancies. It seems Hendry County is perennially among the counties with high teen pregnancy rates in the state.

According to Dr. Pepe’s figures, in Hendry/Glades the top causes of death for residents in 2014 were: heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, and unintentional injury.

By lowering administrative costs and sharing data with the state, he expects to bring in more money for direct services.

“If we get people to resources they need, we can improve health and our economy,” Dr. Pepe said, and it’s a bargain because for every $1 spent in prevention the community saves $50.

Telemedicine video conferencing is another way to save money along with the powerful instrument of technology to augment the numbers of practitioners available as well as expanding bandwidth stream video better.

Former director Pat Dobbins was a great resource and advocate, Dr. Pepe said as he notes a long legacy of great administrators that also include Dr. Valiant, and Dr. Fernandez. He plans to continue building that legacy.

Dr. Pepe notes, “I am very grateful to be working with such talented and dedicated staff in Hendry and Glades.” The goal of all, he said, is to improve quality of life for residents.