While the Independence Health Department made significant strides in its three divisions this past year, the department also is facing a handful of challenges.

While the Independence Health Department made significant strides in its three divisions this past year, the department also is facing a handful of challenges.

Among the top concerns in environmental public health is the possible modification of food handler and manager training programs, said Dr. Howard Braby, a longtime member and chairman of the Independence Advisory Board of Health.

While Kansas City is considering a change in such programs, the Advisory Board of Health unanimously voted to discourage any changes in Independence’s policy, unless the changes would make such training programs more efficient.

“If you’re driving around in the evening, how many people  do you see eating out in Independence at our multiple restaurants?” Braby said during his annual report to the City Council Monday night. “Do we really want to get rid of our food handlers’ program? ... I would like to know, when I go to a restaurant, that these food handlers had been properly educated about how they are supposed to handle food. I think it’s a good preventative technique.”

Also in environmental public health, the department faces a challenge with reduced property maintenance enforcement staffing levels. The Animal Services Division is working with three fewer positions while the Health Department also is down two code enforcement officers, City Manager Robert Heacock said.

Two code enforcement officers were assigned to the nationally recognized Neighborhood Code Compliance Program, but because of reduced staffing levels, those two officers were reassigned as regular district officers “to keep up with the workload this spring,” Heacock said.

That change will reduce the number of code compliance clean-up events this year from eight to two (one in District 1 this spring and one in District 2 this fall).  

“It is a great program, but there are some areas that we need to focus on more than others,” Heacock said, “and that’s what we’re going to try to do – hit the areas that are of the most concern, based on a variety of sources. … Like a lot of areas of our budget, we are struggling to continue as high of service level as possible.”

Within the Health Promotion Division, department officials continue to audit the immunization records of 4,000 children at more than 50 childcare facilities. National statistics show that Missouri ranks low for vaccination rates among children.

“From the age of birth to when they get to school-age, Missouri is one of the bottom few in our nation,” Braby said, “so this is an area where they’re spending some time to update it and improve it.”

One of the Health Department’s top accomplishments in 2011, Braby said, was winning the top prize for the Midwest Region in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ $100K Challenge. Because of the Animal Shelter’s push for more adoptions throughout the second half of the year, adoption rates were up from 2010 and euthanasia rates decreased.

The number of dog adoptions increased 17.20 percent from 2010 to 2011 (from 645 to 779) while the number of cat adoptions increased 38.32 percent (from 602 to 976).

As Independence works toward its goal of becoming a no-kill shelter, euthanasia rates for dogs decreased 52.4 percent (from 229 in 2010 to 109 in 2011) and the number of cats euthanized also decreased, down 43.18 percent compared to 2010 (from 1,121 to 637 in 2011).

Still, Braby said, Animal Services is challenged in finding ways to keep down the large unrestrained or feral cat population in Independence. The city is aiming to promote its low-cost spay and neuter programs and microchip programs.

in efforts to keep those unrestrained populations down, Braby said.

“Working together,” Braby said at the end of his report, “we can do more together than any one single department by itself.”