Health commissioner visits

Published 10:39 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2011

State Health Commissioner Dr. Karen Remley, fourth from left, visits with paid and volunteer staff at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic on Tuesday. The visit followed a speech at the Obici Healthcare Foundation breakfast earlier that morning and visits with the various health departments in the area on Monday.

The communities that make up the Western Tidewater Health District received a special visitor this week.

Dr. Karen Remley, the state health commissioner, visited the district Monday and Tuesday for a whirlwind tour that included a speech at the Obici Healthcare Foundation’s grant awards breakfast and a tour of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic.

She lauded the sense of community demonstrated in local health care circles and admired the determination of the staff at the Isle of Wight County Health Department, which had to relocate after storms damaged the building.

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“By health parameters, we’re not the best in the state,” Remley said after her tour of the free clinic. “But by the sense of community … we’re probably one of the best.”

Remley began Monday in Isle of Wight, where severe storms last month closed the health department building and caused its services to be moved to Suffolk and Southampton.

“I was so impressed by the innovation and the tenacity” of the staff there, Remley said.

Her discussions at the district’s other health departments — Suffolk, Franklin and Southampton — revolved around chronic disease management, employee morale and more.

At the Obici Healthcare Foundation breakfast on Monday, Remley focused most of her talk on chronic disease management and how to improve prevention methods.

“Sometimes we’re all doom and gloom about chronic disease, but chronic disease is better than being dead,” Remley quipped at the beginning of her speech.

Remley stressed the importance of improving underlying factors that can affect health, like poverty and homelessness, as well as facets such as health education, physical activity and access to healthy foods. Such improvements will lead to reductions in chronic diseases, she said, reducing the necessity for interventions that take place once the disease takes hold.

In one recent study, she said, more than half the babies in the study were overweight by age 2.

“There’s a whole new generation being born that if we don’t work with them, we’re going to be playing catch-up,” Remley said. “I never dreamt in my life I would see children with adult-onset diabetes.”

More than 3.5 million adults in Virginia are living with one or more chronic diseases, Remley said.

During her tour of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, Remley saw how a dedicated group of employees and volunteers is working to provide access to health care for the area’s uninsured population, many of whom struggle with chronic diseases that would otherwise be unmanaged.

Remley said her visit to the area informs her work in Richmond by adding a personal touch to the important work that goes on here.

“I’m the link between what happens locally and state and federal funding,” she said. “I can tell the story. It’s no longer statistics, but it’s real people, real programs.”