published Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Addressing the city's health


by Laura Galbraith
Audio clip

Kasey Poole Decosimo

TRENDSETTERS IN PUBLIC SERVICE

Sarah Ingle, 39

* Occupation: Grants planner.

* Claim to fame: For someone who has such great interest in public service, it is no surprise that Ms. Ingle spends her workdays researching and writing grant proposals. Since working with Hamilton County, Ms. Ingle has helped with the Step ONE initiative, which encourages all residents in the area to live healthier lifestyles. She also applied for state funding, specifically for site preparation, for the Volkswagen plant, which is under construction.

* Quote to live by: "Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point." -- C.S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters."

Elaine Adams, 32

* Occupation: Therapeutic recreation coordinator for Chatta-nooga Parks & Recreation.

* Claim to fame: It is Ms. Adams' mission to make sure that everyone, no matter what his or her disability may be, enjoys the same recreation activities. Her job carries a lot of responsibility, and she is often juggling several programs and projects that require extensive planning.

* Quote to live by: "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stacy Johnson, 32

* Occupation: Director of La Paz de Dios.

* Claim to fame: A strong advocate of the local Latino community, Mrs. Johnson works hard to connect Hispanics with the resources they need to live fulfilling, productive lives. In the last year, she has helped the organization grow in numbers, and she also makes an effort to keep the Latino culture alive by organizing several events in Chattanooga.

* Quote to live by: "A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history." -- Mohandas Gandhi

Kasey Poole Decosimo's interest in community health began several years ago during a summer research project organized by her college, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Participants in the program would go to the Solomon Islands near Papua New Guinea.

"I didn't have a good idea of what I wanted to do, but I had taken a lot of classes on medical geography," Mrs. Decosimo said. "And so when I went down there, I saw that a huge illness affecting the community there was malaria."

While staying with a family whose son had chronic bouts of the illness, Mrs. Decosimo wanted to help find a solution. After traveling three hours by boat to access the Internet, she e-mailed a professor to see what sort of questions she needed to start asking.

"I ended up doing a project there, interviewing each household in the community (and) kind of seeing their cultural beliefs on how malaria is treated," said Mrs. Decosimo.

What she learned from that experience was eye-opening.

"You kind of realize that there's deeper issues and kind of a cultural understanding of a people too, I guess, that really affects their health behaviors," she said.

Now 26, Mrs. Decosimo works as a health planner for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department.

"I guess my key responsibilities there are to, first and foremost, track the health of our community, and I do that through data," she said. "I work close with our Epidemiology Department. They deal with most communicable diseases, which are tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS (and) STDs. And a lot of what I do is I track chronic illnesses and then health behaviors that contribute to chronic illness, such as fruit and vegetable consumption (and) exercise. So we coordinate surveys that are done in our community that track this data."

Every three years, Mrs. Decosimo also must use documented data and conduct a health plan for Hamilton County.

"It's kind of like our report card because we measure where we are and we compare ourselves to the Healthy People 2010 goals that are set by the federal government, and we see how far we are," she said.

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