New Butler County health commissioner wants department to be ‘key partner’

Five years from now, incoming Butler County Health Commissioner Erik Balster hopes the community is beyond COVID-19 and working on some of the critical issues that the pandemic has overshadowed.

“I’m hoping we are more prominent in the technological world and a resource for the community for good, trusted information,” said Balster, who will leave his job as Preble County health commissioner for the Butler County job. “But then, on top of that, a resource for involvement and a key partner in a variety of community issues.”

The most immediate goal for Balster is the COVID-19 pandemic. His goal, he said, is to guide the community into a stable area ― as vaccines for 5-year-olds and older and boosters are becoming available ― and ensure good information is available.

He hopes the COVID-19 pandemic is getting closer to its end, or at least being more of an endemic the health community can address, and begin focusing attention on some of the other problems “that we’re unfortunately overshadowed by COVID.”

ExploreButler County General Health District names new health commissioner

That includes reducing chronic disease, improving maternal and child health outcomes, and refocusing their energy on the drug and opioid problems “that were present before and are still present now.”

He also said there is a rise of HIV cases that public health is keeping its eye on.

“We’ll certainly have our hands full with both old and new problems that we’ve either faced in the past or are currently facing,” he said.

Last month, the Butler County Board of Health voted to appoint Balster as health commissioner, beginning Nov. 29. He succeeds Jennifer Bailer as health commissioner, who retired at the end of August. Dr. Michelle Burch, a pediatrician and medical director for the health district, has served as interim commissioner since Bailer left.

Butler County Board of Health President Leon Simpson said the board is “enthusiastic” with Balster’s ensuing tenure with the Butler County General Health District.

“Public health officials throughout the state speak high praise for Erik,” he said.

Balster began his career as an epidemiological investigator at the Ohio Department of Health. He then served as a registered sanitarian and emergency response coordinator at the Warren County Health Department. He’s been the Preble County health commissioner since 2013 and was elected president of the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners in 2020.

Balster is a 2007 Ohio State University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a 2010 Wright State University graduate with a master’s in public health.

Eventually, Balster said he wants to bring modernization to the county health department.

“I think as people become more tech savvy and seek out information, as a health department, we have a great opportunity to educate people and keep people informed on issues that may not be front-page stories,” he said.

Balster sees public health as a “team sport,” as it requires not only an entire staff “working in concert” but also and also cooperation with partner agencies, like traditional healthcare organizations, county agencies, elected officials and school districts.

“Public health in general, to me, is really involving the entire community and being kind of a leader in the discussion,” he said. “It’s being a good community partner and keeping people informed.”

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