Thursday, February 7, 2019

New Health Officer Looks to Widen Scope

New Health Officer Looks to Widen Scope

In a sense, Dr. Bob Lutz is the physician he is today because of a dirty swimming hole in a small central Pennsylvanian coal-mining town, where decades ago five young kids contracted polio.

One of the kids was his mom.

After multiple surgeries at a Philadelphia hospital, Lutz's mother worked for years to overcome the challenges of her disease, and eventually became a successful nurse.

"For me, that was really motivating to see," he said.

After eight years as a Board of Health member, Lutz was appointed in June as the new health district officer for the Spokane Regional Health District, which covers the entire county. In addition to keeping swimming pools and restaurants safe for consumers, the agency monitors the community's health and provides educational outreach to residents and local policymakers.

Early on, Lutz said he learned that the foundation of an individual's physical well being was the health of their community.

Always a "bio-geek," Lutz initially wanted to become a surgeon. However, after completing a surgical internship, he said he found that there was more to patients than the problem that brought them to the operating room.

Instead, there are often underlying issues that one needs to know in order to understand why an individual needs medical care, Lutz said. It could be the patient lives in a neighborhood where it is too dangerous to walk, or his or her budget is too strained to buy healthy foods.

Lutz went into practice in family medicine, which focuses holistically on the health and well-being of individuals across a family's generations. He said family medicine allowed him to see how daily life and the interactions within a family could seriously impact a person's health - for better or for worse.

"Then you realize families are necessarily nested within neighborhoods and within communities, and you see that there's a much bigger picture," he said.

Known as the upstream theory, it states that public health should focus on addressing what are known as social determinants of health - things like the quality of housing, the availability of nutritious food, safety from violence, and education - to prevent health issues from developing to the point of needing recurring and expensive hospital care.

While for many years public health districts provided clinical services and were often considered an option of last resort to provide care for the sickly and impoverished, the reality is that it doesn't make sense for public health to work in the clinical arena anymore, Lutz said. Public health agencies lack the resources to provide the one-on-one care that is available at hospitals, and instead should focus on spending the time that doctors lack to educate the community on healthier living, he said.

Lutz, who has a master's in public health, views his role as health officer as a spokesman for the agency who can inform elected officials, physicians and policymakers on how their work can impact the community's health. …


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