Member Spotlight: Local Health Official Melanie Hutton Shares Her Path in Public Health and Highlights Successes and Challenges Facing Her Department

melanie-huttonBy Taylarr Lopez, Communications Specialist, NACCHO

NACCHO’s Member Spotlight series features interviews with local health department leaders and staff about their careers in public health. This inaugural installment features Melanie J. Hutton, BSN, RN, Administrator of the Cooper County Public Health Center in Boonville, MO. She has been a NACCHO member for 17 years. She has served on several NACCHO committees, including the Media Champions Network and the 2017 Winter Leadership Meeting. She joined NACCHO’s Board of Directors in 2011. Below, she shares her story.

Tell us about your career path in public health.

In 1969, when I was five years old, my mother went to work at the Pulaski County Health Department in Crocker, MO. It was located across the street from my school. From kindergarten onward I would be at the health department. Every day after school, my job was to address and stamp pamphlets and as I got older I volunteered to help the nurses in the child health, family planning, and Women, Infants, and Children clinics all around the county. In high school, I was a relief nurse’s aide for the home health clients at the health department.

After graduating from nursing school, I spent seven years working the nightshift in psychiatric nursing. In 1994, an opportunity became available at the Cooper County (MO) Nursing Service (an old term for health department), located in the Cooper County Courthouse. The office was about 900 square feet. The patient lobby was the hallway of the courthouse. The patient bathroom were the public bathrooms.

I took the position as nurse administrator and within four years I had convinced the county commissioners and citizens to relocate our office outside of the courthouse to an old medical office that was 1,700 square feet. The health department had been located in the courthouse since its inception in 1933. This move was a very huge step for Cooper County. In 2006, I orchestrated a tax levy and campaigned to separate from the County and become our own political subdivision. The ballot measure passed by 27 votes. In 2007, we separated from the County and went under the authority of an elected board of trustees. In 2010, we moved into a brand new building of 9,000 square feet and have slowly increased staff positions. We paid off our building in January 2015.

What are some of the highlights of your career in public health? What makes the work that you do worthwhile?

One of the major highlights of my career in public health was the tax levy I implemented and the new space I was able to procure in 2010. Also, going back to school and getting my Bachelors of Science in Nursing was a tremendous triumph for me, which led me to pursue a Masters in Nursing Education to teach public health nursing. I currently serve on the local Regional Homeland Security Committee and have been a member since 2006. This is my eighth year serving as an executive member of the Region F Administrators Group. I completed the Leadership in Public Health Program offered by St. Louis University in 1998. I am also a registered onsite waste water inspector. I do this work because I believe in my soul that public health is the foundation of our society for health and quality of life. It is this belief that drives my career in public health and the nursing field.

What challenges are you or your health department currently facing?

One major challenge that my department is facing is that our federal and state revenue are down by about 20%. The Board of Trustees are also concerned about the tax burden on the citizens and are not inclined to increase tax rates making program growth very small. Changing public policy in a small anti- government county is very intimidating for local leaders and elected officials. Another big challenge is that the local businesses do not support policy changes like a smoke-free workplaces. We have a corporate river casino in our county seat. The casino has convinced community leaders that the gambling revenue will significantly decrease if a smoke-free workplace policy is passed and the county seat is very dependent on the casino revenue.

The Cooper County Public Health Center has been doggedly working on smoke-free policy changes at the county seat level and breastfeeding friendly worksite places. We are currently in the process of passing a health regulation to implement a prescription drug monitoring program within Cooper County as Missouri is the only state that does not have a statewide ordinance.

What is the biggest change you’ve seen in public health since you’ve started in this field?

Public health has had to become very political and fight to remain funded and recognized as a serious and valuable asset in the healthcare community and market. Having a board of trustees who want to make changes verses just be fiscal oversight has proven beneficial to the department and its endeavors.

How are you positioning yourself and/or your health department for the future?

We are small health department in a county of 17,000 citizens. Our first step has been fiscal stability and security. Currently, we only perform core services but are trying to stay abreast of current trends to see when we can partner to support our local community.

What do you enjoy doing in your time away from work?

I have two teenagers. My 19-year-old son is in his first year of college and my daughter is 17 and is a junior in high school. I’m often busy with their activities. In my spare time I am an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution Hannah Cole Chapter here in Missouri. My current role in the Hannah Cole Chapter is Vice Regent. I am the Senior President of the local Children of the American Revolution Cole’s Fort Chapter. I am a member of the Ladies Aide Society of the Trinity Lutheran Church Clarks Fork located in Boonville. I am in my second year in the Masters in Nursing Educator Program at Central Methodist University in Fayette, MO. I like to garden and home can tomatoes and green beans. I love growing flowers, especially David Austin Roses. Family history is my ultimate favorite hobby. Spending time with family and friends is a priority also. I also enjoy dance and am taking an adult jazz, tap, and ballet class.