By KURT HAUGLIE
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
Guy St. Germain, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department health officer and executive officer, works at his desk Thursday. After 24 years at the health department, St. Germain is retiring at the end of September. A search for his replacement has begun.
HANCOCK - After 24 years working for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, Guy St. Germain is moving on.
St. Germain, who is the WUPHD health officer and executive officer, is retiring at the end of September. He began at the health department as the agency's administrator.
"At the time, the health department was struggling (financially)," he said.
In 2004, St. Germain, who is from Calumet, said he became the health department health officer and executive officer.
St. Germain said he received a bachelor's degree in economics from Michigan Technological University and a master's degree in economics from Northern Michigan University. Before he started at the WUPHD, he worked in hospital administration at the former Keweenaw Memorial Hospital in Laurium, now Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital. He then worked at the former D&N Bank in Hancock.
During the difficult financial period at the health department, St. Germain said the agency's board of directors were considering eliminating the administrator position.
"I saw that as a challenge," he said.
St. Germain said eventually he decided he wanted to stay on at the health department.
"Over time, I acquired a deep appreciation for what public health does and for public service," he said.
The purpose of any health department is to, obviously, maintain the health of the community it serves, and that appeals to St. Germain.
"The basis of public health is to work with the conditions that make society healthier," he said.
The health department works on two broad fronts, St. Germain said. One is environmental, which includes water quality, waste management and indoor and outdoor air quality. The other front is controlling communicable diseases.
"We run 35 different programs," he said. "We're concerned with things like the environment, or how diseases spread among the whole population. Those are things that have to be controlled by government service."
St. Germain said the WUPHD - which serves Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties - is one of 45 health departments in Michigan. The larger-population counties, such as Genessee, Ingham, and Wayne counties, have their own health departments. Marquette County has its own health department, also.
St. Germain said during his time at the health department the function of the agency has changed from strictly enforcement and caring for low income people to education and prevention.
"In the time that I've been here, I've been fortunate to be part of a change in the world of public health," he said.
The change is not happening just locally, but throughout the state, St. Germain said.
"I think we have led the way on many issues," he said. "The image of the health department and its role in the community has expanded greatly. We have taken on an educational function in everything we do."
In 2002, the health department conducted a health assessment survey of residents in the five county coverage area to find what the possible health care needs of the area are. Of 8,000 surveys mailed out, St. Germain said a response of 25 percent was received, which was very good. The survey - which was developed with local hospitals - won a Michigan Department of Community Health achievement award.
Scott Ala, chairman of the WUPHD board of health, said board members have been very pleased with St. Germain over the years.
"Guy has done an amazing job," he said.
Ala said St. Germain had to oversee the agency at a time of serious financial difficulties, and did it well.
"He did a phenomenal job keeping the health department healthy," he said.
Although St. Germain often had to lay people off during the difficult financial times, Ala said he kept the respect of the remaining employees.
Ala said an executive committee has been formed of board of health members to search for a replacement for St. Germain. There are advertisements for the position in the Daily Mining Gazette and on the health department website.
"That generally generates interest," he said.
The health board members would like St. Germain's replacement in place one or two months before St. Germain leaves, Ala said. Although St. Germain wants to leave at the end of September, he indicated he will stay on longer to assist with the transition, if necessary.
"That's only if the new director wants him to," Ala said.
St. Germain said when he started at the health department, it was funded from state and local money. Now it's funded from state and local money, fees for services, and 40 percent from grants and awards.
"I'm quite proud of that," he said. "We're making up so much of our funding through our own initiative."