68.3 F
Evansville
Monday, April 15, 2024

Joe Gries

EDUCATION: Reitz Memorial High School; bachelor’s degree in general studies, Indiana University

RESUME: real estate property assessor, Knight Township Assessor’s Office; chief deputy auditor, Vanderburgh County Auditor’s Office; Vanderburgh County Auditor; Vanderburgh County Health Department administrator, 2015-present

HOMETOWN: Evansville

FAMILY: Wife Vallee; three children

After working in Vanderburgh County government for almost 20 years, moving to the health department in 2015 may have seemed a curious move on the surface, but it made perfect sense to Joe Gries. His father, Dave, worked in the health department’s environmental division for 39 years, and when the vacancy occurred, Gries was encouraged by county health officer Dr. R. Kenneth Spear to consider the career shift.

As administrator, Gries oversees a department of about 90 workers who provide immunizations; track communicable diseases; prevent child fatalities; educate the community about diabetes, smoking, and sexually transmitted diseases; inspect food service businesses and tattoo shops; and more.

Its work is getting noticed: On Feb. 22, the Indiana Department of Health presented VCHD with a Public Health Service award for public health service delivery and community outreach.

Gries says his job has its challenges — he led the health department through the COVID-19 pandemic, after all — but it is rewarding, too.

EB: SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT ADMINISTRATOR, NOTHING QUITE COMPARES TO COVID-19.

JG: That was a gut check for us. We were in the middle of everything: working with the county commissioners, the mayor, both hospitals, the universities, the school corporation, the diocese, trying to make sure that we were that resource for folks, because nobody had any answers for anything. Information was flying out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What we were trying to do was provide quality information to people and let them make the best decision they could for their families and their health. … I credit a lot of people for our community to get through that. I know it wasn’t easy, but hopefully we did the best we could, and we were flying the airplane while building it. … We learned a lot, too, and I think coming out the other side, there are things we can improve and utilize moving forward.

EB: HOW IS VCHD’S PRE-TO-3 HOME VISITATION PROGRAM ADDRESSING INFANT MORTALITY CONCERNS?

JG: The key is to provide wraparound services and address the social determinants of health — the fact that you may not have transportation, maybe you’re food insecure, maybe there’s substance misuse. There’s a myriad of things that mothers and families experience that they need help with. If we can provide community health workers, nurses, social workers, client advocates, and build those relationships with these families to help them work through all of these issues and provide resources, we’re hopefully going to see them thrive moving forward.

EB: WHAT OTHER MAJOR PUBLIC HEALTH CHALLENGES DO WE HAVE?

JG: We struggle … with exercise and nutrition and finding quality food that is going to fuel our bodies, while also making sure we monitor our other chronic diseases. Diabetes is big here. The smoking rate is an issue here in Vanderburgh County and Indiana. … Sexual health is a big thing, too. I think people need to talk about it more with their children and make sure they understand that they need to protect themselves.

EB: TELL US ABOUT VCHD’S MOBILE HEALTH CLINIC.

JG: It is an opportunity for us to go into the community. We try to seek out those most vulnerable people who might need to be tested for STDs, and also provide immunizations. You have folks who maybe are homeless or moving from house to house, who are going to be experiencing lots of things that could affect their health. We want to be able to go to them, see them where they’re at, and provide those services. (The overall goal of the health department) is to help people improve their health, find ways to protect folks from all kinds of things, and just be that resource.

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