Our History

Protecting Futures Since 1930

Health Department of Northwest Michigan is currently in its 9th decade of service to the residents and visitors in our 4-county district. Since our establishment in 1930 as District Health Department No. 3, the department has changed names, staff, buildings, programs, and internal divisions, but dedication to our mission to protect and promote good public health remains the same, and as strong as ever.

We take protection from infectious disease and good sanitation for granted now, but in the early years of the health department, it was a different story. In the 1930s, Health Department sanitation services involved only testing the water supply at schools and resorts, and inspecting dairy farms that produced milk. Only 17 percent of the milk supply was pasteurized. Well and septic system permits, restaurant, school, and daycare inspections would all come much later.

Communicable diseases have always garnered a great deal of effort by the health agency staff. Common diseases in the 1930s included pertussis (whooping cough), measles, typhoid fever, smallpox, scarlet fever, diphtheria, venereal disease and tuberculosis. Due to public health initiatives such as immunization, improved hygiene and sanitation, and infection control, most of these diseases are either nonexistent or very uncommon in our area today. However, communicable disease control continues to be an important part of the health department's efforts almost 90 years later.

In 1934, a great deal of money and energy went into assuring proper nutrition for children, including noonday school meals and distribution of cod liver oil. Today, children and families continue to be our primary focus. Programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Maternal Infant Health Program (MIHP) provide nutritional counseling to parents, and in the case of WIC, assistance in purchasing nutritious food.

1950s shot of Medical Director giving immunization to childMedical Directors throughout our history include Dr. Carleton Dean, 1930-40, a pioneer in public health; Dr. A. F. Litzenburger, 1943-67, whose work laid the cornerstone for many of today's community health programs; Dr. Robert S. Libke, 1967-77, whose genuine concern for people provided the initiative for change and growth; Dr. Jim Harrison, 1978-80; and Dr. Brian Youngs, 1980-2000, who demonstrated a commitment to quality and high standards of care. Our current Medical Director, Dr. Joshua Meyerson, came to us in October 2000. His goals include improving immunization rates across the region, increasing access to medical and dental care, and enhancing collaborative efforts with other physicians and health professionals across northern Michigan.

Because of past efforts to control infectious disease, along with the introduction of vaccines and antibiotics, the Health Department today has the luxury of focusing mostly on eradicating chronic illness by promoting healthier lifestyles. Although the causes of death are mostly the same as they were in the 1930s--heart disease, stroke, cancer and accidents--the knowledge to help prevent these illnesses is available today, and staff continue to educate community residents about healthy lifestyle choices.

It's anyone's guess what public health challenges the next 90+ years will bring, but Health Department of Northwest Michigan will strive to meet them with the same dedication to service in the community as its shown since 1930.