Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 25, 2014

‘It’s the best of all’

Kadar takes joy in diversity of working in public health

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

GREEN VALLEY — Administrator Susan Kadar is still waiting for the rest of her desk, but her new office and the new Mercer County Health Department building is now open for business.

Built on the site of the former building, the health department’s new quarters is a morale booster, Kadar said. Moving into it is the latest chapter in a public health career that she loves.

Originally from Gary in McDowell County, Kadar earned a civil engineering degree from Bluefield State College and worked at U.S. Steel for a year and a half.

“Then they had a huge layoff back in ‘80 and ‘81, and I, being one of the new kids on the block, was one of the ones that got laid off,” she recalled.

A new career possibility was presented when her husband, Gary, noticed an advertisement in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph for a sanitarian.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you check into this? It might be something you’d like to do.’ So I started learning what a sanitarian did. I came out here and applied, and I fell in love with public health; and I’ve stuck with it all these years.”

Kadar first started working for a state agency, then later went to work for Mercer County.

 “I started with the Southern West Virginia Regional Health Council that was here under contract for the first few years and then got hired by the county,” Kadar stated. “I went to the state in ‘94 as an engineering tech in nine counties in southern West Virginia, worked on non-transient water supplies, did sanitary surveys, and made sure they were chlorinating and sampling and had a trained operator. And then I came back to being a sanitarian.”

Kadar said she likes the diversity the public health profession has to offer. She started back in 1983 in environmental health as a sanitarian.

“You inspect restaurants, retail, schools, child care, recreational water facilities, animal bites. There’s just so many things that you do, and it’s proactive,” she stated. “You’re protecting the public. Of course, we’re always there when something does happen. If you have a restaurant that has problems, or say there’s an food borne outbreak or a rabid animal, mostly.”

Constantly being able to meet new people and help them resolve issues is another rewarding part of the public health profession.

“I fell in love with the people I inspected, the cooks in the schools. It’s just the people. Year after year, I’ve just met some really wonderful people on this job, and I wouldn’t have met this many in any other field,” she said. “You’re always meeting someone.”

For example, Kadar said she worked with sewage installers and learned to appreciate their profession.

“They’re some of the best people. I could depend on them for anything. They’re a good bunch,” she added.

Not all encounters with the public and the duties of a public health professional are resolved quickly and smoothly.

Kadar laughed. “There are some days you want to pull your hair out. It’s not all flowers.”

Tasks such as investigating the report of a possibly rabid dog or cat can be frustrating, especially if the animal has not been caught and cannot be found.

“You have to start tracing if it’s a stray,” Kadar said. “You have to trace where that animal’s been, and sometimes you get frustrated because you can’t. And then it disappears. Whoever got bit, you have to start them on the rabies vaccine. When you have an unknown, you have to assume a positive.”

And when whether a person was exposed to rabies cannot be determined, that person has to undergo treatment. Public health often requires sanitarians and public health nurses to go into tense situations when they are investigating a health risk.

“You have neighbors feuding, and they pull us in the middle of a complaint.” She laughed again. “It’s never dull! I probably only have one moment when I made someone mad, and that person shook a coffee cup at me,” Kadar remembered. “That’s the worst I’ve dealt with. Usually I can talk to anybody, see their side, and then pull them to see ours.”

During her years of working with the public, Kadar has learned to perceive situations and whether they could be hazardous. Public health nurses and sanitarians learn to trust their intuition when visiting private homes and inspecting businesses.

“And you have to learn there’s some psychology involved, and you have to learn to pick up on cues,” Kadar said. “Sometimes you can go out on a complaint and pull into a yard where the complaint is, and the alarms go off. And you think, ‘I’d better not do this alone.’ It’s just a sense you get. You’re in an area where it may be secluded. You just pick up on something and think, ‘I’d better get another sanitarian to come out here with me on this.’ It’s just innate. It’s just something you develop. It’s just a chill or something and you figure, ‘I’d better not do this on my own.’”

The person or persons the public health representative has visited may display facial features that set off alarms, or the property’s appearance or location may make the visitor pause.

“They may have a facial expression, and you can tell this is not going to go well. Other times you may not even see the person; it’s just the vibes you get that say this may not be safe,” Kadar said.

Kadar became the health department’s administrator last year when the former administrator, Melody Rickman, retired.

“I was lead sanitarian. I had a lot of administrative duties with that, and when Melody retired, I just decided I’d apply, and I love it, too. When a problem comes along and I solve it, it’s the best feeling in the world. And believe me, there are problems! A lot of what I’m doing is new. I’m learning as I go, and it feels good to master something and solve problems. It’s a good feeling, and I’m still in public health. It’s the best of all.”

Besides being the new administrator, Kadar is also the first one to serve in the health department’s new building. The health department worked out of the St. Luke’s Professional Building in Bluefield until the new facility was ready. Personnel are still unpacking, but the department is now back in operation.

Kadar said the old building was still serviceable when she started working there in the 1980s, but it continued to deteriorate. It was larger than the new facility, but whole sections were sealed off because of mold and other issues.

The old building had approximately 22,000-square feet, but the new structure has about 12,000-square feet. Much of the old building’s space was not needed.

“It was huge, a really big building. It had a basement that was like a dungeon. It was kind of sad to see it go. When I did work there, it was in moderately good shape in the 80s, but it got to the point where it was beyond repair,” she said.

The old building was designed when conserving energy was not a major issue, so it was not well insulated. A leaking roof and mold added to the problems.

“Those outside walls were just sheet metal with windows in them,” Kadar recalled. “We all could see dollar bills floating into the sky, winter and summer. That roof had been all patched so many times and it leaked. If it rained outside, it rained inside; and the mold, it was taking over.”

The former building had a small public meeting space that deteriorated even more. Kadar remembered it having a “post apocalyptic” look during its final days.

“It was awful. I think right before we moved the heating unit fell. It was like a nuclear something had come through,” she said with a laugh. “You expected a zombie to come out of the closet!”

Kadar plans to remain with the Mercer County Health Department and the profession she loves.

“If I can health wise, and everything else falls in line, I’ll be here until I can retire; and they still may have to run me off then! It’s the people that’s kept me in public health.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com