When Kari Prescott applied for a job with the Webster County Health Department, it wasn’t the result of a lifelong passion for public health. It was 1997 and she was a single mother of three young girls, looking for a job with benefits to take care of her family.
Now, 25 years later, Prescott has held a wide range of roles within the health department, progressing to her current role as director of the department.
“I never dreamed that day in 1997 that I would be sitting here today with all these experiences,” she said.
When Prescott started at the health department on January 27, 1997, the department had just acquired the WIC grant, and its role was to learn the ins and outs of the grant, which provides assistance to new mothers and children. at risk of poor nutrition. . A year later, her role shifted to coordinating the Maternal and Child Health Grant.
Later, Prescott held a position as office manager and helped develop additional programs. Back then, the WIC and maternal and child health grant programs through the WCHD only covered four counties, but now it’s up to 15, Prescott said.
“And then a few years later, I set up other programs that offered grant opportunities,” she said.
These programs include an abstinence grant, HIV testing, teen pregnancy prevention, iSmile and iSmile Silver.
Prescott has also served as HIV coordinator, environmental health manager and chief financial officer.
“There are so many buckets I soaked my toes,” she said.
Finding a passion for public health, Prescott decided to continue his education, earning his associate’s degree in general studies from Iowa Central Community College and his bachelor’s degree in health and human services and sociology from Buena Vista University. – Fort Dodge Campus.
“I was a non-traditional student, so a big thumbs up to Iowa Central in their coordination for people like me in those days,” she said.
As a single mother working in the ranks of the department, Prescott enjoyed learning about all the different aspects of public health, from WIC to child and maternal health to vaccinations and more.
“There are so many services being provided that working in the field is just wellness work,” she said. “We can help people when they need it, in a non-threatening way.”
She said it was “revelator” seeing all the ministry could do for the community.
On September 1, 2008, Prescott assumed her current position as Director of WCHD.
“Becoming director, I had goals and visions and wanted to take advantage of opportunities and have strategic planning to really grow the agency to where it is now,” she said.
One of the aspects of public health that Prescott expanded as director was emergency preparedness for things like E. coli or salmonella outbreaks.
“We are on the prevention side, but we are also on the intervention and recovery side,” she said.
Emergency preparedness is not limited to foodborne illness outbreaks and viral epidemics. In December, the WCHD, along with Webster County Emergency Management and other county agencies, set up an incident command center to prepare for the windstorm that hit the area on December 15.
“We were prepared that if a tornado touched down we could help with emergency shelter or food or whatever was needed,” said Prescott.
Part of the department’s growing emergency preparedness and other missions has been to develop and foster relationships with other county agencies.
“It’s been really exciting” she said. “Now we are in a regional component with the coordination of ambulance services and hospital and public health and it is more of a broader network.”
She said that 10 or 15 years ago WCHD was kind of “Isle” working by himself.
“Now there is more of a vision of coordination, connection and collaboration not to duplicate but to improve services”, said Prescott. “So it’s been really fun to watch that develop over the years.”
Building those relationships and working together helped Prescott and WCHD prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic when it hit Iowa in March 2020, she said, reflecting on March 17, 2020 , when Governor Kim Reynolds issued the first emergency orders due to the coronavirus.
“On that day, I will always remember what it was like to be a public health leader in a community,” said Prescott. “And the challenge and the responsibility that was going to be on us as a department.”
Her proudest moment in her tenure as director is representing WCHD at a March 2021 Governor’s press conference, where she discussed the county’s efforts for mass vaccination clinics against COVID-19.
“It was an unexpected result to be director and a huge honor,” she said. “And a great opportunity to represent not just our department, but all of the wonderful staff who work here and the work they do every day.”
Prescott gives a lot of credit to his staff at WCHD.
“As an agency, I’m very proud of the people who work here, their mission, their empathy, their drive to do their best every day they come to work,” she said. “It’s probably one of the best feelings as a leader, knowing that you have a wonderful team of people working with me.”
Part of being the director of the health department is also working with the Webster County Board of Health and the Webster County Board of Supervisors.
“For us, it’s an honor to have someone like Kari,” said Mark Campbell, chairman of the Webster County Board of Supervisors and member of the board of health. “His leadership continues to make our health department an example for others to follow and we are incredibly honored to have him.”
With 25 years at the Webster County Health Department under her belt, Prescott isn’t sure if she’ll stay there another 25, but she’s definitely not done.
“I have goals” she said. “When I went back to school to graduate, I wanted to be a principal here and I wanted to implement changes within the department.”
Some goals she wants to achieve before she retires align with the Iowa Department of Human Services, take a holistic approach to public health, and cross county boundaries.
“I would still like us to figure out how we can better help smaller health services deliver more collaborative services,” said Prescott.