Leon Vinci had barely settled into his new job as director of the San Juan Basin Health Department when he was tagged to be co-chairman of the Health Alliance of La Plata County.
Vinci took the added responsibility in stride because the newly created alliance shares his goals providing as much quality health care to as many residents as possible.
Were your No. 1 source for information and health promotion, Vinci said of San Juan Basin Health, which serves La Plata and Archuleta counties directly and San Juan, Dolores and Montezuma counties through subcontracts and grants.
There are no clear boundaries, Vinci said. But were into everything, driven by the desire to improve the quality of life.
The Health Alliance of La Plata County is modeled after a 14-year-old Greeley-based organization that brought together representatives of medicine, local government, education, nonprofit agencies and insurers to improve health care.
The impetus for developing the alliance was the departure in 2007 of Valley-Wide Health Systems that left La Plata County short of primary care practitioners.
Vinci, 58, arrived in Durango after stays in the Northeast, Midwest and South. He sandwiched a stint as a health-care consultant between running public health departments in Connecticut, Nebraska and Kansas and his arrival in Durango in August.
He has a doctorate in health administration from the Medical University of South Carolina and a masters degree in public health from Yale University.
In La Plata and Archuleta counties we provide a wide array of services, Vinci said. The breadth is amazing.
The health departments online home page says its mission is preventing disease, promoting healthy lifestyles, preserving the environment and assuring basic health services.
Among its some 70 programs are WIC (a health and nutrition program for women, infants and children), flu shots, septic tank permits, safety helmets and seat belts, restaurant inspections, smoking cessation, home health and homemaker services and the Promoviendo la Salud program for Spanish-speakers.
The department doesnt deal only with the lower socioeconomoic residents but also with the more affluent who need such services as travel vaccinations.
We serve everyone in our jurisdiction, Vinci said.
Vinci assumed leadership of the department in August 2010, replacing Lynn Westberg, who started there as a nurse in the early 1970s. Westberg resigned in late 2009 after a state audit criticized some of the departments financial operations.
In the interim, Julie Thompson, who was hired as a consultant soon after she moved to Durango to guide the early work in forming the Health Alliance of La Plata County, served as director of the health department.
Vinci was familiar with Durango and La Plata County before he learned that the health department was looking for a new director.
As a member of the board of directors of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, I was aware of good things going on here, Vinci said. I knew about the departments community outreach and the challenges and concern about hantavirus.
The Sin Nombre strain of hantavirus, a pulmonary infection that proves fatal in 50 percent of cases, was unrecognized until 1993 when it killed several young people in the Four Corners.
Although the health department responds to many demands, prevention is of utmost importance, Vinci said. The message is:
Health education is the key to maintaining a fit community, Vinci said. Health-care workers cant perform miracles.
People have to take responsibility for their health. The lack of chronic-disease prevention is killing us.
Heart disease, strokes and cancer can be held in check with screenings, Vinci said. Obesity, lack of exercise, smoking and substance abuse are killing us.