Health Booster

Carla Turner helps New Hanover stay healthy

Wilma 0620 Healthmain

When in nursing school years ago, CARLA TURNER did a community health rotation and thought, “This is something I’m never, ever going to want to do.”

Today, however, she’s the personal health services manager at the New Hanover County Health Department and is reveling in the management and leadership aspects of her job and the opportunities for growth it provides her and her staff.

Turner’s role calls for her to serve as the lead nurse and manage the division, including all nursing and social work programs (including school nurses), laboratory services, WIC/Nutrition Services, child dental health programs, and school mental health programs. She manages eight supervisors who oversee about thirty programs and services, such as family planning and sexually transmitted disease clinics, childhood and adult immunizations, and travel vaccinations. The department has about 130 staff members.

In addition, Turner works closely with other division managers to coordinate department services and human resources, acts as a community liaison, represents the department, serves as an appointee of the health director, and steps in as acting health director as needed.

The public health department offers its services to anyone, regardless of people’s ability to pay. Patients also are not required to live in New Hanover County to receive services. The department does not offer primary care.

Before joining the public health department, Turner served as a staff nurse at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, in home health care, and as a staff development coordinator and director of staff development.

She served as a school nurse at Noble Middle School and Winter Park Elementary School. It swayed her career path.

“That (being a school nurse) has got to be one of the best jobs I ever had,” she says. “You had an impact on those kids every day. I would say, ‘We do more than just put Band-Aids on people.’ We did a lot of chronic health management in a school.”

Turner received her undergraduate degree in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was working on her graduate degree in health care administration from California College for Health Sciences when she was a school nurse, around 2000-2005.

She’s been in her current position for more than eight years and believes her skill set is a great match for the job.

“I love to take care of people,” she says. “And now I get to take care of … employees who I get to help grow and empower and help them be successful.”

These employees, in turn, do “an amazing job taking care of people in the community.”

“Public health isn’t for everyone,” she says of her work. “You have to have a heart for people, in general, to do what we do well.”

She cites helping her staff grow and get promoted among her leading accomplishments. She’s also proud of the growth in the number of department staff and services.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put her and her staff to the test.

“I’m extremely proud of the county’s response,” she says.

The county’s restrictions were more stringent than the state’s in some areas, and she believes that factor contributed to keeping down the number of those infected. Her department has reached out to long-term care facilities and other high-risk places, providing education and – when possible – answers to questions about the virus. Turner helped lead an effort to set up drive-thru diagnostic testing site for anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

She credits her partners in the community, such as county management, county communications, emergency management, fire and law enforcement, property management, and the parks department.

Turner says that rapidly evolving guidance has kept her and her staff on their toes.

“That has been a challenge at times as we have had to completely change gears in the middle of a process and rethink the best way to proceed,” she says. “But, we keep moving forward with a servant heart. We know that what we are doing is going to make a difference.”

And, what they’ve learned will help improve the practice moving forward. For instance, Turner wants to create a plan to communicate more effectively with staff to be sure everyone has important information when they need it.

“This is public health at its finest,” Turner says. “COVID is teaching us a lot about our capacity and how much we can handle.”

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Categories: Health