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As It Was: County Health Officer Focuses on Local Community

When Dr. A. Erin Merkel became the public health officer for the Jackson County Board of Health in 1937, eight mothers were dying out of every 1,000 live births, the highest rate in the state of Oregon. When Dr. Merkel retired in 1971, no mothers had died in the previous 8,000 live births.

Preventative medicine and health education are primary concerns of county health departments, and for 34 years Merkel promoted new programs and managed outbreaks of disease. Merkel ran immunization programs that ended epidemics of measles, typhoid and polio.

During his tenure, the public health department developed a home health agency, migrant labor clinics, family and child guidance programs, and family planning units. Today’s public health department covers environmental protections, and an even broader spectrum of physical and mental health programs.

Merkel kept abreast of the latest advances in public health and published articles in the American Journal of Public Health, but his focus remained on the local community.

When Merkel retired, he recommended gearing public health to “Jackson County needs and not according to the textbook.”

Source: A. Erin. "Diphtheria Epedemic in Medford Oregon in 1949." American Journal of Public Health 41.5 (1951): 522-27. Web. 13 May 2015. <http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.41.5_Pt_1.522>.

"County's Health Officer Resigns After 34 Years." Medford Mail Tribune 16 Apr. 1971. Print.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.