Ouachita County Health Officer Dr. Jera Smith was confirmed as the county's new health director recently after taking over the role from Dr. Larry Braden in March 2022.
County Judge Robert McAdoo said he was waiting on the State of Arkansas to confirm the appointment before formally introducing Smith to the community.
According to information provided by McAdoo, a county health officer serves in each of the state's 75 counties, where they serve "as a key public health representative in the local community, promoting the use of local health unit services, advocating for public health policy initiatives with local and state policy makers, and providing assistance to local public health education and promotion initiatives."
The county health officer is also the liaison between a county and the Arkansas Department of Health, State Board of Health and State Health Officer, especially during times of public health emergencies.
"The reason I like Dr. Jera Smith as the County Health Officers is because she's a go-getter," McAdoo said. "(She) stays on top of all the trends. She's always looking to try be actively involved and working with the Health Department and she wants to make contact with our local legislators to open up that communications level and avenue. And... she's young. She's vibrant. She's kind of the model of health care in Ouachita County for the future."
Smith said she hopes to be proactive in promoting health in the community.
"Arkansas gets a bad rap for some things -- you know, 'Thank God for Mississippi,' right? And so we have unique health concerns and we have to be proactive at finding solutions that work for our communities. If we wait for more centralized government to do that, it'll have to trickle down to us. But why don't we do what we can here to address what we can here? Is there something different we can be teaching in schools?" Smith said. "One of the big things that I'm passionate about is unintended pregnancy. We have a super high teen pregnancy right here. We're kind of ranked highest in the country per populace and that's not acceptable."
Smith noted that the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) has recently designated Ouachita County as an underserved health care region.
She stated, "What that opens up for the NHSC is they have loan forgiveness for medical people that work in rural, underserved areas. Any type of people that have nursing, OT (occupational therapy), respiratory, nurse practitioner -- any kind, even therapists -- school debt can be forgiven now for people that served Ouachita County."