Judy Nieuwenhuis in office

Judy Nieuwenhuis works at her desk inside the O’Brien County Public Health office, located on the first floor of the county courthouse in Primghar. Since becoming nurse administrator in October 2018, Nieuwenhuis has had her office made more kid-friendly by putting up wall murals of hot-air balloons, animals and flowers.

PRIMGHAR—In the year since Judy Nieuwenhuis began leading O’Brien County Public Health, the office has stepped up its presence in the communities it serves.

“We’re working on just being out in the community more and being able to provide more services to the community,” said the rural Hospers woman.

She was hired in April 2018 and became nurse administrator in October 2018.

One of the first changes she implemented since becoming nurse administrator was changing the look of the public health office, which is located on the first floor of the county courthouse in Primghar.

The walls of the public health office previously had been painted white and gave off an overly sterile feel that Nieuwenhuis said was not kid-friendly. To make the space more inviting, she had the walls painted beige by the building maintenance crew.

Nieuwenhuis, along with office manager Cindy Ramirez and public health nurse Erin Smith, put up wall murals throughout the public health office to promote a kid-friendly vibe. The murals stick to the walls and show images of hot-air balloons, animals and flowers.

“When the kids come in, they’re a little more distracted and looking at the animals and things, so when I’m getting the shots together, they’re not like, ‘What are you doing?’” Nieuwenhuis said.

O'Brien County Public Health office

O’Brien County Public Health nurse administrator Judy Nieuwenhuis points at her office’s newly updated mission statement displayed on one of the walls. Part of the updated text says the office’s goal is “to provide professional, respectful, caring, and compassionate services to the community.”

The public health office also has started offering new services for the communities it serves in the county.

One of the new services that started shortly after Nieuwenhuis became nurse administrator was Spanish-language interpretation. The public health office hired Raquel Pick in January as a contracted employee who handles interpretation work.

Pick is in charge of typing up Spanish-language versions of any written communication the public health office sends out, such as immunization consent forms. She also assists other departments in the courthouse if they need someone to interpret for them.

Nieuwenhuis also started the Caring for Kindergarten program last year, during which she visits kindergarten classes at the county’s public and private schools to teach them about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables.

“I do a presentation, and then I give them a little plate of all different kinds of fruits and vegetables so they can try them,” she said. “Because some of the kids, they’re like, ‘What is this?’”

A new program she brought to the county this year was Iowa’s 5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices Count campaign. The numbers represent having five daily servings of fruits or vegetables, limiting daily screen time to two hours, doing one hour of active play and having zero sugary drinks.

The public health office launched the program in June and integrated it with the Primghar Public Library’s summer reading program for children. Kids who participated in the summer reading and followed the rules of 5-2-1-0 each week received a prize.

Nieuwenhuis said the Healthy Choices Count campaign did not attract as many children this summer as she had hoped for, partly due to the fact the public health office did not start promoting it until the end of the previous academic year.

“We didn’t get the information to the schools to give to the kids, so this year, we’re going to be a little more organized and get it so that the kids can know about it a lot more,” she said.

Another way she will advertise the program is by using a new Facebook page the public health office is creating to promote itself.

Nieuwenhuis hopes the public health office will be able to provide even more new services in the future, but said the county board of supervisors advised against doing so unless more staff members are hired to handle the workload.

“If we add any more, we’re going to need more help,” she said. “In the future, if I need more help, I’ll be able to hire somebody.”

This story was originally published in the Oct. 5 edition of The South O'Brien Sun.