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COVID Spotlight: Kaitlin Cartoccio, MCHES®, Community Programs Coordinator, Bernards Township Health Department, New Jersey

woman holding mches signMCHES® Career Profile & COVID Spotlight: Community Programs Coordinator

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become increasingly evident to the public just how critical the role of our nation’s health education specialists has become. NCHEC is extremely proud of the many health CHES® and MCHES® who serve as essential personnel in the continual fight against this global pandemic. They have assumed critical roles in the identification, control, and assurance of the needs of individuals and communities. 

Why are public health education specialists important?

Public health education specialists advocate fiercely for public protection measures, and support many other critical health education and health behavior measures during these very difficult times. The following interview is part of a new series to highlight the amazing work efforts of our credential-holders.

READ MORE: The Value of Health Education Credentialing

About Kaitlin

Kaitlin Cartoccio works as the Community Programs Coordinator Health Educator at the Bernards Township Health Department. The health department covers 6 towns in 2 counties in New Jersey: Bernards Township, Bernardsville Borough and Peapack & Gladstone Boroughs (Somerset County) and Long Hill Township, Mendham Borough and Chester Borough (Morris County).

What does your role as a community programs coordinator entail?

“In my position, I serve as the Municipal Alliance Against Substance Abuse and Youth Services Commission Grant Coordinator. I am the advisor for a youth leadership group Ridge Education Action & Community Health (REACH),” said Katilin. “I am also a Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor and have a DRCC (Disaster Response Crisis Counselor) certificate.

What do you do on a typical day as a community programs coordinator?

“Typically my time is split between my health educator responsibilities at the health department and coordinating the two grants. During the year, I work with my supervisor (Health Officer Lucy Forgione - also an MCHES®) to develop programs for the community in the areas of youth services, substance misuse, mental health, and other topics involving health. 

READ MORE: The Value of Health Education Credentialing

“I also work closely with the Bernards Township School District to do programming and Youth Mental Health First Aid Training. I assist with screenings, clinics, and other programs within our department. I also work with all six towns as an emergency management liaison and work with them to keep our emergency rosters up to date. Typically, I would work with those OEM (Office of Emergency Management) Coordinators for each town if an emergency should arise.” 

woman standing at table

How have recent events concerning the COVD-19 pandemic affected your work?

“Unfortunately, most of the municipal alliance programs have been put on pause. I still make an effort to share substance misuse education and mental health resources to members of the community,” said Kaitlin. “I have made it a priority to share these types of resources, and how they pertain to COVID-19. For example, this pandemic is taking a serious toll on mental health. With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I’m sharing all the resources that the State of New Jersey has made available to residents.

 

As a local health department, our number one goal is for our towns to receive excellent public health services in a timely manner. We have made every effort to work with our towns on health education pertaining to COVID-19, contact tracing, working with them on different scenarios and situations, and working with long-term care facilities. 

 

“I wouldn’t say I have new responsibilities, but my responsibilities pre-COVID-19 have become ‘COVID-fied.’ I still focus on health education, but instead of it being focused on my typical areas, it is now about hand hygiene, face coverings, how to stay safe in public, and other COVID-19 matters.

What experience or training has prepared you to help the community best during the COVID pandemic?

“My experience with emergency preparedness has really come into play. Prior to this, I was primarily getting continuing education in this area (FEMA classes, NIMS, shelter exercises, mass prophylaxis training, communication exercises, etc.) and now we are really living those exercises. I have been able to put my education into real life experiences now.”

READ MORE: How Health Education Credentialing Can Benefit Communities

people smilingDo you think your role as a community programs manager will permanently change due to COVID-19?

“I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure. I hope people will take health education more seriously, and will take health in general more seriously. I hope people listen closely to health educators and what we have to say.” 

 

Our goal during this pandemic has been to become the subject matter experts on what is going on, so that if people have questions we can answer them. We read every single piece of information being released by the New Jersey Department of Health so that we know what to tell our constituents.

 

“I think this worldwide pandemic will permanently alter every job in the world. People will have new ways of interacting, businesses will have new ways of operating, and yes, health educators will have new things to educate the public on.”

Do you feel that your department has gained recognition for the critical role of health education specialists in public and community health?

“When you work in public health, you don’t do it for glory or recognition from anyone. If people are happy and healthy that’s the most important thing. However, that doesn’t mean that when we get appreciation, we don’t take it. 

“The towns we work with have been very appreciative of the information and services they’ve received from us during this time. To me, that’s the beauty of a local health department. You get real hands-on (no pun intended) interaction with the entire department. Each one of us at the Bernards Township Health Department have been working very hard to make sure all of our towns feel supported. 

“We’ve gotten some very nice feedback from township officials and residents thanking us. If they feel supported and reach out to us to let us know that, there’s no better feeling in the world. To me, knowing that we were able to provide health education to someone who needed it, they took it, and they felt empowered - well that’s all anyone can ask for, pandemic or not.”

 

I really would like to give a shout out to all the health educators and public health professionals out there doing their best to keep people safe during this pandemic. People never hear about public health until we are needed. So to all the health educators and public health professionals out there, keep doing what you are doing!

 

CHES® and MCHES® Certification for Public Health Educators

CHES® or MCHES® like Kaitlin are making a difference in their communities more than ever before. If you’re interested in a career in healthcare, consider health education credentialing which provides skills and competencies that can prepare you for a successful career in a variety of healthcare fields. 

How to Become a Health Education Specialist

Posted by Jessica Wessner at 6:00 AM
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