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Partnerships with Purpose

DHEC | Working with a vision of healthy people living in healthy communities

You’ve probably noticed the inspection grades hanging in restaurants. Or heard about the temporary ocean swim advisories along parts of the beach after heavy rain.


DHECVISION | Healthy people living in healthy communities

MISSION| To improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians by protecting and promoting the health of the public and the environment

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Both are just a couple of examples of the myriad responsibilities of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. The state agency works in a variety of ways with a vision of healthy people living in healthy communities.

“That aligns with what Tidelands Health and Tidelands Community Care Network is all about,” said Jessica Piezzo, a DHEC community health educator, “so it makes for a good partnership.”

DHEC is one of about 25 partners in Tidelands Community Care Network, which was created by Tidelands Health in partnership with Access Health SC and The Duke Endowment. The network is comprised of health educators, state agencies, transportation providers, primary and specialty care providers and others who can help uninsured and underinsured residents gain access to medical care.

Piezzo is part of DHEC’s community systems team working in areas throughout the state helping foster changes that can make a big difference in helping folks live a healthy lifestyle.

“We really look at changing the environment in which people live, work, play and pray to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Piezzo, who works in Georgetown and Horry counties.

That includes coming up with creative ways to make it more convenient to get fresh food and have access to places to be active.

For example, Piezzo has worked to make it easier for residents to get fresh fruits and vegetables by compiling information on all the farmers markets in the two counties. For residents’ convenience, DHEC created a map of all the markets with details including whether each market accepts SNAP/EBT, WIC and senior farmers market nutrition program vouchers. Piezzo updates the list every year.

She’s also working with a grassroots group in Pawleys Island to start a community garden. The group has the land and is working to find sponsors to help cover the cost of the 12 raised garden beds. The goal is to grow enough food for a big, holiday feast for those in need.

“They want to be able to feed the community at Thanksgiving,” Piezzo said.

Helping residents be active also is a goal. Piezzo is working with Horry County Schools to adopt a policy that would allow residents access to a school’s track after school hours to get physical activity. Some schools allow that now, but the school system doesn’t have a policy that applies to all schools.

“That would let community members know there is a safe place to engage in physical activity close to home,” Piezzo said.

Just like Tidelands Community Care Network, Piezzo works to identify and remove barriers keeping residents from living healthy lives.

“We can talk about healthy eating and active living, but there are barriers for people being able to do that,” Piezzo said. “It’s really important to take a look at what’s going on in the community and the climate in the community.”

Transportation can be one of those barriers, especially in the rural areas of the two counties. Clinics aren’t always within walking distance, and some residents have an older vehicle that isn’t reliable or they must rely on others to catch a ride. Partner agencies in Tidelands Community Care Network provide transportation alternatives.

“Tidelands Community Care Network has a lot of diverse partners at the table, so we can network and share resources,” Piezzo said. “If I have a question, I know who to go to in Georgetown County.”

Tidelands Health’s active role helps bring partners to the table and helps change the perception that a health system exists just to treat people once they get sick, Piezzo said.

“It says that ‘we also want to make our community healthy,’” she said.

DHEC brings a wealth of data and knowledge about the community to the network, said

Kelly Kaminski, director of community health resources for Tidelands Health.

“The agency has a wide range of responsibilities in our state – from inspecting restaurants for health hazards to issuing birth certificates,” she said. “But at the end of the day, DHEC wants South Carolina residents to live healthy lives, and we do, too.”