Interviews compiled by Paige Sharpe, Community Health student at the University of Central Oklahoma (2011)
On October 30, 1889, the “House introduced a bill creating a Territorial Board of Health and regulating the practice of medicine…The Superintendent was the only one who received a salary for his work. The President received a salary as Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Vice-President received five cents per mile to attend meetings…and was paid an annual salary of $500” (Mathews, History of The Oklahoma State Department of Health).
OPHA was founded in 1939 and to this day remains as the “only entity in Oklahoma that brings public health professionals all together…” The president for the 1939-1940 year was Hugh Payne (OPHA Business Plan, 2011). Public health was implemented in Oklahoma before Oklahoma was even considered a state. Irma Jean Eufinger (2011) explained that her grandfather (George David Lowery), an 1889 medical school graduate, worked in the Oklahoma panhandle as a physician with a great interest in public health. Due to unsanitary conditions of water drinking buckets, Dr. George Lowery appointed himself the public health official in Guymon, Oklahoma.
Jimmie Ewing (2011), a public health nurse, who joined OPHA in 1959, reported that “OPHA provided leadership when the people of Oklahoma voted to change the constitution whereby each county could vote a mills levy up to 2.5 mills for operation of the county health departments.” The 2.5 mill increase brought stabilized funding to the county health departments (Ewing, 2011).
Jay Smith, Administrator for the Logan County Health Department, joined OPHA in 1965. During his time with OPHA Jay has represented OPHA as the 1971 President , as a Counselor for 8 years, and as the Historian for 7 years. Jay explained that he and many others were involved with the second revisions of the OPHA handbook. He and other members were also involved in the no-smoking rules, as a lot of members were smokers (Smith, 2011).
Irma Jean Eufinger, public health nurse with the Oklahoma City County Health Department, joined OPHA in 1966. She educated many families and maintained a focus on public health. Irma Jean also worked with tuberculosis programs in the 70’s. She explained that increased funding for these programs led to a decrease in tuberculosis patients. Irma Jean also stated that being a member of OPHA “makes it possible to know that you are following public health standards and know the updated and current standards of practice” (Eufinger, 2011).
Helen Gretz came to Oklahoma from Washington DC in 1972 and joined OPHA in 1973. Helen began her career as a tuberculosis nurse and worked with the Oklahoma State Department of Health in the TB Division up until her retirement in 2005. During her time with OPHA, Helen served as OPHA Secretary, Councilor and Awards Chair, Nursing Section Chair, Vice-Chair, Awards Chair, Nominating and Resolutions Chair, and a member of the Resolution as well as membership with awards committees. Helen (2011) shared an important event that took place in the early 70’s. She explained that at an “annual OPHA business meeting, [she] raised the question of allocating a portion of a member’s dues to the section they were joining.” Helen continued to explain that it was an “incentive to recruit new members and it provided additional monies for the section education programs.” Helen reported, “being a member of the nursing section strengthened [her] relationships with the county health department nurses and district nursing supervisors, especially when [she] visited the various county health departments.”
Many people within the organization of OPHA have worked hard to make changes for the betterment of the public. Being an OPHA member can strengthen ties between organizations and bring everyone together to serve the community. All of us can do great things to influence public health just as Irma Jean Eufinger, Jay Smith, Jimmie Ewing, Helen Gretz, and many other great public health leaders have before. Although public health began with fighting diseases that we now see as preventable, it is because of these early discoveries and concerns of the early physicians and public health workers that we know so much today and can focus on prevention.