“We have such an engaged community. Everyday, I’m re-energized about how we can serve the community. So many people are active and care,” said Joseph Pepe, the new administrator for the Florida Department of Health in Hendry and Glades Counties.
Though Pepe was named administrator just this month, he has been serving as interim administrator since Pat Dobbins retired from the position last May.
Pepe is also no stranger to South Florida. He has family who resides in both Clewiston and LaBelle, and before coming to the Hendry/Glades area for work, Pepe worked with the Florida Department of Health in neighboring Charlotte County.
Pepe progressed from working in higher education to heath care, which he said was a “natural evolution,” having worked with a lot of people in the medical field during his time in education.
His desire to help people was one of the driving forces behind his change to public health.
“I really do enjoy rural health. It is good and honorable work helping the most vulnerable population,” said Pepe, who helps facilitate initiatives that provide access to affordable health care and other necessary community programs.
Some of those initiatives include veterans services; FOCUS, which teaches how to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies in young women; a school-based dental sealant program for second and fifth graders to be given oral health assessments, a fluoride treatment sealing of adult molars at no charge; and a car seat safety program to distribute car seats at little or not charge to those in need.
Pepe and the staff at the Department of Health work with numerous community organizations to help make some of the initiatives possible. Those organizations include local school districts, the United Way, Kiwanis, Rotary Club, and local churches.
Pepe said they are always looking to partner with the local organizations because they are key to keeping the community healthy. They help Florida Department of Health understand what will help residents stay healthy, whether that be more affordable medication, or helping to manage weight and blood pressure.
“Our goal is to keep people from getting sick in the first place,” said Pepe.
One of the biggest hurdles he said Hendry and Glades counties face in staying healthy is access to transportation. If residents don’t have access to transportation, they may not have access to treatments, medicines, healthy food choices or behavioral help.
Pepe said members of the Healthier Hendry/Glades team are currently assessing area transportation services to figure out what gaps there may be and to provide solutions to fill those gaps.
The work Florida Department of Health does in Hendry and Glades counties could not be completed by the administrator alone. And Pepe recognizes this. His sincere gratitude goes out to his dedicated staff who are the “true heroes of public health.”