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  • Writer's picturechelseakimh

Our Interview with the Hackensack Department of Health

Our Eczema Project recently had the incredible opportunity to interview public health official Susan McVeigh and a public health nurse from the Hackensack Department of Health in Bergen County.

We were able to ask about about their day-to-day work, what issues the Hackensack Department specifically addresses, and their interventions regarding chronic diseases and mental health.

We first asked: “What do you think are the most prevalent public health issues in America today? Is there a specific issue that is more prevalent in New Jersey than in anywhere else?”

To which Susan replied: “Of course the main issues at hand in America are obesity, lack of nutrition, or even diabetes. But to be clear, the most prevalent issue will differ depending on who you ask.”

OEP: “By the way, what are some of your main duties and responsibilities in the health department?”

Susan: “There are 3 main roles in our department. Public health nurses, environmental specialists, and vital statistics. Your responsibilities are different according to which role you have.”

Susan also detailed what issues Hackensack Department of Health mostly focused on, some of which were contact-tracing (especially in light of COVID-19) by public health nurses, handling of birth, marriage and death certificates by vital statisticians, and environmental control by the specialists.

When asked what interventions the Hackensack Dep. of Health had for mental health support, she told us about Bergen County’s Stigma-Free program.

“Bergen County established a Stigma-Free program for all towns in the county to run, in hopes to target citizens’ mental wellbeing. Every year we host awareness events at fairs and conventions to spread our resources to anyone in need of help. We offer multiple hotlines for suicide, addiction and psychiatric emergencies. We also have online factsheet resources specifically for teens/adolescents.”

OEP: “So would you agree that a good, and perhaps sole intervention for chronic disease is to prevent stigma by educating the community and raising awareness on the topic”

Susan: “Yes, because the difficult thing about chronic disease, including skin and mental health, is that there is no one-all cure, and it is not treatable by medicine only. A big reason why mental health goes untreated is because of the judgement pervasive in society.”

One of the main takeaways from this enlightening interview is how deep stigma runs, and how little there is to prevent it except early education and normalization. Similar to how Our Eczema Project targets skin stigma by raising awareness, towns in Bergen County are working towards helping their citizens progress towards a better understanding of chronic disease.

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