New Butler County health commissioner targets infant deaths, smoking

For the first time in its history, the Butler County Health Department has a full-time health commissioner, replacing a person who served for more than 40 years in the position part-time.

Jennifer Bailer has been named the county’s new health commissioner, a job overseeing a 30-person department that has an annual budget of $2.5 million. She was serving as the nursing director at the Butler County Health Department and co-lead of the Partnership to Reduce Infant Mortality (PRIM) for the past six years.

Bailer will replace one of the longest serving health commissioners in Ohio history, Dr. Robert Lerer, who stepped down from the job after more than 40 years.

Bailer told the Journal-News that there are several health-related issues to be addressed in her new role.

“A high rate of infant deaths, which indicates overall poor health of many members of our community, and very high smoking rates, as well as opiate addiction” are among her top concerns.

The infant mortality rate in Butler County is one of the highest in Ohio according to the Ohio Department of Health, as data from the agency revealed that from 2007 to 2014, there were 37,840 births in Butler County and a total of 288 deaths.

Working to curb the county’s heroin epidemic and opioid abuse issues is also a chief concern because of its increasing drain on public safety resource.

Last year, for the third year in row, drug overdoses were the leading cause of deaths in Butler County, according to the coroner’s office.

Butler County ranks 48th out of the 88 Ohio counties, dropping four spots from the previous year, in the latest county health rankings released Wednesday .

The report, called the County Health Rankings, indicates that Butler County has numerous areas it can improve, including: smoking, drug overdoses, violent crime and air pollution.

Bailer said she plans to work with lawmakers, faith-based groups and other agencies to help combat these problems.

She also wants to see Project Dawn - a program funded fully by the state that gives Narcan kits to participating health departments for free - continue to grow, as well as work to make sure six projects approved totaling $2,480,344 through the Ohio Department of Medicaid to fight infant mortality reach success.

“The health department can’t solve problems on its own. Working with community partners is key,” she explained “We currently work with numerous agencies, governmental entities, schools, hospitals, and individuals around the county. We work with partners in traditional health care roles (providers and clinics), and non-traditional health care roles (faith based groups, educational organizations, community centers).”

Bailer’s salary as a full-time commissioner is $80,000.

Jackie Phillips, Middletown health commissioner, said Bailer is the right choice for the position and her experience will be an asset to the agency.

“I have known Jenny as the Director of Nursing for many years , her expertise and high standards will continue to serve her well in her new position as Health Commissioner,” Phillips said. “Her energy and commitment to public health is greatly needed in our County. I wish her all the best and support her success.”

The Butler County Board of Health was incorporated in 1920, and provides a variety of services for residents, ranging from environmental concerns, emergency preparedness a nursing division, infant mortality reduction and vital statistics, but its service area does not include Hamilton or Middletown, which have their own departments.

All three health departments work together in many areas, according to Bailer as certain grants are held by one of the health departments and the other two are subcontractors for them.

About the Author