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Juneau County Health Officer Barb Theis will be bringing her decades long career to an end in early 2019. She has served Juneau County for 40 years, spending the last 30 as Health Officer.

“The first 10 years of my career I served as a nurse for both home care and public health programs,” Theis said. “I will always be grateful to the many county residents who welcomed me into their homes, shared their knowledge and experiences, and together we worked to improve their health and well-being.”

Theis became Nursing Director in 1988 and later Health Officer after legislative changes in 1993.

“I feel privileged to have served as the Health Officer for the past 30 years and to help shape the Health Department’s programs and policy,” Theis said. “My goal as Health Officer has always been to advocate for important community needs and then positively impact any program developed to address those needs to help move the needle in the direction of having healthier communities.”

Theis expressed gratitude for health partnerships helping promote the Health Departments goals. In particular, she thanked Family Health LaClinica’s Mauston Dental Center and Roche-A-Cri Behavioral Health and Recovery Center, Mile Bluff Medical Center’s Community Care Program.

“I have had an exciting career in public health but it is important to recognize the world in which we find ourselves today is very different than when I began my public health career forty years ago,” Theis said. “The field of public health is different today from even a few years ago, and it will continue to change. Change is constant and even though Public Health’s core mission is and always has been to reduce the leading causes of preventable death and disability, major factors are affecting public health’s roles going forward including,” chronic disease, changing demographics and global warming.

The Board of Health has served an important role during her time with Juneau County, Theis said.

“I have witnessed numerous changes in responsibilities, programs, and skills required of the Health Department and its staff during my tenure,” Theis said. “I found the Board of Health members always willing to advocate for what was best for public health including necessary change needed to meet the needs of our population. They strive to take advantage of new and promising opportunities. They welcomed and approved new evidence-based ways to improve population health. When our local funding and resources were not enough, the Board of Health endorsed partnerships or grant funding to establish the service or resource.” Grant funding currently makes up 60 percent of the Health Department’s total revenue.

Theis emphasized the communal effort of the Health Department’s accomplishments during her time there, but said there are moments she is particularly proud of, including education on communicable diseases, intergovernmental agreements to share resources across jurisdictions; and hiring community health educators, dental hygienists and sanitarians before those positions became more standard.

“This job as Health Officer has been a job of a lifetime but I am excited and looking forward to my future life experiences,” Theis said. “I feel confident the Juneau County Health Department is poised to continue its success in the future. It has a long history of collaborating with community partners, is engaged in many partnerships, has strong leadership, has the trust of the community, and its staff and Board are strong advocates for needed services. We have done some great things in Juneau County and what I am most proud of is when it comes to improving the health of our population everyone realizes that we’re all in this together.”

Juneau County Chairman Alan Peterson said Theis has been a valued official for the county.

“She’s real good to get along with, (and) does a good job explaining things to everybody,” Peterson said.

Looking back, Theis said she has learned patience, adaptability and the value of community engagement. She plans to continue living in Juneau County. She is confident in her staff and their commitment to carry out the Health Department’s goals.

Theis’ last day is in February. She is not yet certain what comes next in retirement, but she looks forward to spending time with her family and traveling.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl or contact him at 608-697-6353