CHARLEVOIX – The H1N1 flu outbreak of 2009 was a defining moment in the history of the Health Department of Northwest Michigan. As the illness quickly became an epidemic, the agency responded just as quickly by realigning its operations to administer 22,000 doses of flu vaccine to Northern Michigan residents, and to coordinate the distribution of another 8,000 doses through other providers.
It was also a signature moment in the career of Carol Paxton who, as the Health Department's Director of Emergency Preparedness, was instrumental in preparing the Department and the community to respond to the epidemic. Paxton is retiring this month after 30 years with the Health Department, and 40 years in health care.
“Carol has a unique ability to organize and plan initiatives,” said Linda Yaroch, Health Officer. “She took on Emergency Preparedness in 2002, and became its Director in 2006 as demands increased. She led the agency and the community in mass immunization exercises, which prepared us for the reality of the H1N1 epidemic in 2009.” Yaroch added that Paxton's efforts, including the numerous plans she authored, have laid the groundwork for future emergency preparedness.
Paxton received her nursing degree from MSU in 1969, and went on to complete a Master's degree at Wayne State's nursing program in 1972. After several years as a maternal and child health nurse consultant for the Michigan Department of Community Health, and later as a college instructor and lecturer, she landed at the Health Department – known then as District Health Department No. 3 – as its Director of Personal Health Services. Through the years, she also served as the Director of Health Promotion, overseeing adolescent and reproductive health programs, breast and cervical cancer screening, worksite wellness and the development of numerous coalitions to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce chronic disease.
“Carol's easygoing, friendly personality resonates with everyone who's had the privilege of working with her,” said Yaroch. “Her colleagues have become her friends, and she's forever a part of our family.” Emergency preparedness responsibilities will now reside within the Health Department's Environmental Health Division; Matthew Blythe, an emergency management professional who joined the agency this month, will take on the role of Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties.