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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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New director at health department
Dr. J. Henry “Jody” Hershey
Monday, July 14, 2014
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The new director of the West Piedmont Health District wants to help make Henry County and Martinsville a healthier community.
Dr. J. Henry “Jody” Hershey has more than 27 years of experience in public and private health care in southwestern Virginia.
The health district, part of the Virginia Department of Health, operates the Henry-Martinsville Health Department, for which Hershey
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also is the director. He started his job on May 19.
A 2012 report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute revealed that Henry County and Martinsville are among Virginia’s unhealthiest places. Among 131 localities surveyed, the county ranked 123rd and the city ranked 113th.
The statistical report took into account matters such as health behaviors, environmental issues, clinical care availability and socioeconomic factors in setting localities’ rankings.
Locally, Hershey said, there is “an epic of chronic disease,” such as obesity, heart disease and cancer, which must be overcome.
“I’m still the new kid on the block, so I’m still learning” about the area’s health issues and how they might be addressed, he said.
However, he believes addressing those problems will involve collaborative efforts of the health department and other local initiatives, such as Activate Martinsville Henry County and the Coalition for Health and Wellness.
Hershey said he is impressed that the community has such initiatives, considering its small size.
Many of the problems with chronic diseases stem from people’s lifestyles, Hershey said. Exercising more would help people eliminate, or at least curb, those problems, he said.
He indicated that he would like to see efforts to encourage people to exercise more, such as by expanding local walking trails.
Emphasis should be placed on preventing medical problems, Hershey said. In the long run, prevention will cost people less than treating problems, he said.
Hershey also wants to make the health department more visible in the community.
The department provides various services, ranging from immunizations to health-related education and counseling, for adults and children.
Hershey said there is a misconception that health department services are only for impoverished people.
Many services are available to people regardless of their household incomes, Hershey said. He noted, for example, that most children can get many types of vaccinations at the department for free.
Hershey was the director of the New River Health District, which includes Radford and Montgomery, Pulaski, Floyd and Giles counties, from 1995 to 2011. Until recently, he was a primary care clinician/medical consultant for the Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke, and president of Holistic Health Promotions Inc., which provides health care consulting services.
He has a doctorate in health promotion from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree in public health with a focus on epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. He received his medical degree from the Eastern Virginia Medical School and a bachelor’s degree in biology from Roanoke College.
A certified family and preventive medicine specialist, Hershey has been an adjunct professor with Radford University, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and the Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.
He is involved in many professional organizations, including the American Public Health Association and the National Association of County and City Health Officials, of which he was president in 2003-04. Also, he has made nationwide radio and television appearances as a medical consultant.
Hershey, 57, spent a few months as the health district’s interim director before the former director, Dr. Gordon Green, was hired.
He said that after spending a couple of years outside the public health field, he wanted to get back into it because “public health is my passion.”
When the director’s job came open, he decided to pursue it because he was impressed with the community during his previous time here.
Having grown up in southwest Virginia, he remembers when the Martinsville area was the state’s industrial center and more prosperous.
What impresses him most about the community now, Hershey said, are the people and organizations — The Harvest Foundation, for instance — that are determined to revive the economy, as well as efforts in place to improve the health of area residents.
But those efforts ultimately cannot succeed if people do not take some initiative to help themselves improve their health, according to Hershey.