Jett set to take similar position in Florida

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By Thomas Barr

      SHEPHERDSVILLE – When Dr. Swannie Jett looked to apply for the vacant position as director of the Bullitt County Public Health Department, he had a vision.

     While seeing that the operations of the department were in excellent shape, Jett saw a bigger vision of becoming a leader in the community.

     As he prepares for his next challenge, Jett believes the groundwork has been put into place and the partnerships formed to make the department that leader. More importantly, Jett believes the community’s knowledge of what the health department can do has increased tremendously.

     Jett will leave his current position on April 1 and become director of the Seminole County Health Department in Sanford, Fla. While he enjoys the warmer climate, Jett said the position was attractive because it is a much larger operation with over 200 employees and over 500,000 people in the community.

     “It is difficult to leave,” said Jett, who took over June 15, 2009, after a 23-year stint by the department’s first director, Ned Fitzgibbons, who retired.

     “But this is an excellent opportunity,” said Jett.

     Taking over for an established leader, Jett admitted that change was difficult for the staff and even for the community.

     “I really enjoyed our staff,” said Jett. “The staff has a vision. They saw what public health was doing in the nation and what it could do here.”

     When taking over, Jett said the operations and finances of the agency were in top-notch shape. What he wanted to do was to have the department get more involved in educating the public about health issues and in gaining more community partnerships.

     “I wanted us to reach further into the community,” said Jett.

     In looking back, Jett points to efforts such as diabetes education, the Healthy Hearts program, recreational opportunities advanced by the CREW and, most recently, the creation of a suicide prevention council.

     “That’s how you move forward,” Jett said of the community efforts.

     The health department is also getting more involved in the county’s parks committee, which Jett said has been needed.

     In looking at the death rates for things such as heart disease and cancer, Jett said the community must be more active and must be educated on how to eat healthy and to be healthy.

     “We’ve made tremendous strides,” said Jett. “But we still have a lot to do.”

     He has enjoyed seeing the partnerships grow over the years.

     “We can accomplish a whole lot more together than by doing it separately,” said Jett, who added there are many grant opportunities to seek.

     In the future, he sees the Farm to School program as another example of improving health in the community.

     Not everything done by the health department has been universally popular.

     When government agencies would not embrace the idea, the health board approved a smoking ban policy. That was quickly met with litigation from Bullitt Fiscal Court and the other municipalities.

     The matter is currently in the state court system. While the lower court voided the smoking ban, the Court of Appeals said that the health board did have a right to impose the ban due to the public health issue. The Supreme Court will decide the case.

     Getting approval for the smoking ban, which is now being discussed at the state level by the General Assembly, was a crowning moment, said Jett.

     “A light bulb went off in many peoples’ minds,” said Jett.

     While it was a hot topic, Jett said the health board took the matter and decided a ban was the best thing for Bullitt County.

     Another major accomplishment over the past three years has been the general understanding of what the health department is all about.

     “People have a better understanding of public health,” said Jett. “And we have so much more to be done.”

     Andrea Renfrow, nurse administrator, will be in charge of the agency after Jett leaves. The board of health will conduct a search and then name a new director.

     Jett plans to be part of the search process, as he wants to make sure the work toward community partnerships will continue. He is also eager to see the department receive its accreditation, which will assist in the ability to secure grants.

     He will also be a phone call away even after he starts his new position in Florida.

     “It has been a great experience,” said Jett. “I think we have made some great strides and the community has been great to work with. I see only more good things for the health department in the future.”