County recognizes local leaders in public health

Four individuals and one group received public health recognition awards from the Anoka County Board in a ceremony at the board’s April 8 meeting.

Officer Brian Platz with Commissioner Scott Schulte.
Officer Brian Platz with Commissioner Scott Schulte.

The awards program, now in its sixth year, recognizes those who have “devoted their time, energy and talents to improving public health in the county,” according to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah.

The 2014 recipients were Dr. Elsa Keeler, North Metro Pediatrics; Dr. Alberto Ricart, Unity Hospital; Patricia Halvorson, Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health and Well-Being; Bryan Platz, Coon Rapids Police officer; and the St. Francis Community for Drug Awareness.

The program is coordinated by the county’s Community Health and Environmental Services Department. The award recipients have “gone above and beyond to make a positive difference in Anoka County,” said Laurel Hoff, department director.

Dr. Elsa Keeler

Keeler, who volunteers as a pediatrician and medical director at North Metro Pediatrics in Coon Rapids, was honored “for her leadership and volunteerism in protecting and promoting the health and safety of low-income, uninsured and under-insured families in Anoka County,” according to County Commissioner Julie Braastad, who presented the award to Keeler.

“For the past eight years, Doctor Keeler has worked tirelessly to build collaboration in the community to improve the health of under-served families,” Braastad said.

Keeler, who is completing her master’s degree in public health in the maternal and child health program at the University of Minnesota, also advises the clinic on protocols and evaluation of children at risk for complex health concerns and coordinates referrals to make sure patients have access to needed and affordable specialists, she said.

According to Keeler, she appreciates the opportunity to collaborate with “wonderful people” in public health and it is a joy to help children and their families.

Positive health improvements for children and families strengthen the community, Keeler said.

Dr. Alberto Ricart

Ricart was recognized for his work as a doctor at Unity Hospital to improve the health of county residents by substantially decreasing the rate of infection in hospitalized patients.

The award was presented to Ricart by County Commissioner Jim Kordiak, who said that for the past two years, Ricart has worked to improve processes at Unity to minimize the impact of an infection commonly known as C-Diff.

This has involved working with infection prevention practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, physicians and environmental services staff to reinforce anti-infection techniques, including a hand hygiene campaign to remind every employee how important it is to wash their hands before and after each patient encounter, according to Kordiak.

The hospital has seen results; hospital-acquired C-Diff infection rates dropped 47 percent in 2013 from 2012, a “substantial decrease,” Kordiak said.

Ricart described the award as a “great honor,” but said it was the work of many, not one person, to effectively reduce the number of infections in the hospital.

Patricia Halvorson

In presenting the award to Halvorson, Sivarajah called her “truly a champion for mental health awareness,” working tirelessly since 2009 when she began at Lee Carlson Center to promote the agency’s mission “to provide exceptional and affordable mental health services for families, children, youth and adults in the community, she said.

According to Sivarajah, Halvorson has set up partnerships and collaborations with area businesses and organizations to help promote and sustain the center’s services and “her passionate leadership and collaborative spirit have become very well-known in our community.”

With Halvorson’s fundraising expertise, the Lee Carlson Center was able to move its Bridgeview community drop-in center for adults living with serious and persistent mental illness from a 2,500 square-foot house in Spring Lake Park to a 4,200 square-foot building very close to the Lee Carlson clinic in Fridley and also resulted in the purchase of a van for transporting Bridgeview members to and from the center, she said.

“This is more than a job to her,” Sivarajah said.

Halvorson said she was “humbled to be here” and “very thankful and appreciative” of the award.

Working with Anoka County, Halvorson has been amazed by the collaboration and team spirit, she said, while also paying tribute to Allina Health for its cooperation and collaboration.

“Mental health is so important to all of us because we are all touched by it,” Halvorson said.

These are issues that need to be tackled, she said.

Bryan Platz

Platz was honored for his leadership in Coon Rapids being designated a Heart Safe community by the Minnesota Department of Health, the only community so far in the county. What became a passion for Platz was fueled by the death of his “beloved uncle” to a heart attack, according to County Commissioner Scott Schulte, who presented the award to the police officer.

Platz and his team of volunteers took steps to prepare citizens to intervene when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest before first responders arrive by increasing the number of publicly accessible AEDs from 23 to 107 in businesses, where employees are trained know where they are and how to use them, Schulte said.

In addition, more than 1,300 Coon Rapids residents have been trained in hands-one CPR and AED use and Platz’s goals are now to get 300 AEDs distributed to the city’s 600 businesses and train half (30,000) of the city’s population, he said.

In addition, the Coon Rapids Heart Safe team has created a training video re-creating a sudden cardiac arrest incident that occurred at a Coon Rapids business last year to show how bystander intervention and CPR and AEDs save lives.

“Bryan is an outstanding example of a role model for promoting public health in Anoka County,” Schulte said. “Anyone who feels unprepared to get involved in a medical emergency needs to seek out Bryan’s training.”

According to Platz. this was not his award because he has had the help of a lot of people, including the volunteer team, the Coon Rapids City Council, four whom were at the county board meeting, city staff and members of the police and fire departments.

And he provided the county board with updated numbers – more than 4,000 residents had now been trained and the number of publicly accessible AEDs had grown to 150, Platz said.

Platz, who introduced two sudden cardiac arrest victims in Coon Rapids who had been saved by the use of CPR and AEDs, challenged county board members to encourage the communities in the districts they represent, to start a Heart Safe program so that Anoka County can become the first county in the state to have a Heart Safe designation.

“The time for action is now,” Platz said. “Let’s get the ball rolling in the county.”

St. Francis Community for Drug Awareness

County Commissioner Matt Look presented the public health award to Michelle Anderson, who chairs the St. Francis Community for Drug Awareness for its work promoting drug awareness in the St. Francis community through educational resources, social media and public forums.

The group was formed following deaths and close calls from heroin and opiate abuse, which hit hard in St. Francis, according to Look.

The mission of the St. Francis Community for Drug Awareness, which comprises concerned families and a community leaders, is to bring awareness of the dangers of drug use by providing educational resources to all and support those affected by drug abuse, Look said.

Formed in October 2013, the group now has the support of dedicated volunteers, local businesses, school officials and law enforcement, he said.

“The battle cry of St. Francis Community for Drug Awareness is ‘Drugs Erase Dreams,’” Look said. “They know it and they’ve seen it firsthand. Congratulations to all of you for the work you are doing to save lives.”

The award is “very exciting for us,” Anderson said. Before starting the organization, many members, if asked what they knew about heroin would not have been able to answer, now “you would need about three hours” if the same question was asked, she said.

A lot of people in St. Francis have been affected by heroin abuse, “it doesn’t matter who you are,” Anderson said.

“But we are working together, trying to make some things happen,” she said. “It has taken off and we are excited about what is happening on the right path in the community.”