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A Conversation with Toe River Health District’s Jessica Farley

Jessica Farley

By Tim Gardner

Jessica Farley serves as the Public Information Officer for the Toe River Health District, which encompasses health departments in Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties. Her primary responsibility is to chronicle and disseminate information about the health district and its services to media on local, state, regional and even national levels as well as residents of the three counties and all others who request it.  

Farley is a true professional — well-organized and thorough at handling details while performing her job with the Health District, which strives to protect and improve the health of the citizens of the three counties while maintaining an over-all healthy environment.   That is accomplished through an organized community effort focusing on: health promotion, disease prevention, education and awareness, access to and provision of care and quality and value. The health district provides services through each of its health departments to fulfill those objectives that are mandated by statutes or regulations of the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other services as approved by the Toe River Health District Board of Health.

Continue reading for an interview exchange between this reporter (my questions) and Farley (her answers) about the health district and the many, all-important services it offers to Avery Countians as well as Mitchell and Yancey county residents.

High Country Press (HCP): How long have you been Public Information Officer for the Toe River Health District and how did it come about for you to fill the position?

Farley: I have been in the PIO position for entire time that I have been an employee for Toe River Health District, which is for 11.5 years.   It is required that anyone who fills the Health Promotion Coordinator position also acquires the PIO title as well. The two positions seem fairly related to one another because of the collaboration with community partners, creating media articles and relationships with media outlets.

HCP: For those who want to learn more about you, what is your personal background?

Farley: I was raised in a single parent home along with two older brothers. We were raised in a very close family including my aunt, two cousins and my grandmother whom was always willing to help.   Even though I lived in Avery County, I attended Mitchell County Schools because that is the county my mother worked in at the time. Upon high school graduation, I continued my education at Mayland Community College to gain an Associate in Arts degree only to transfer to Appalachian State University.  

At ASU, I was a 2006 graduate with a Bachelor in Science degree in Health Education, and a concentration in Psychology.

After completing my internships in 2006, one at Mitchell County Schools and one at Toe River Health District, I was offered employment with Toe River Health District in August 2007 and accepted the job. I have been in the job since. During my employment with TRHD, I got married to my high school sweetheart, established a residence in the Altapass community of Mitchell County. And my husband and I have raised three children.

HCP: What is your favorite aspect and the one you consider most rewarding about your work with the Toe River Health District?

Farley: My most rewarding aspect about this job is working in the communities I love the most. I love the feeling I get when helping others. I love working with other people from other agencies to help families, children and the elderly. This is what public health is all about, helping others to live the most fulfilling life they can.

HCP: What kind of organizational umbrella does the Toe River Health District operate from… Besides a Director, does it also have a Board of Trustees or related type of additional leadership?

Farley: Besides the health director, we have a Board of Health that oversees the district. The Board of Health makes and adopts policies and rules for the county health departments, provides guidance on health issues in each county and appoints/approves the Health Director. 

The Board typically meets quarterly and calls special meetings as needed. The TRHD Board of Health Meetings are open to the public; at the beginning of every meeting a segment of time is allotted for public comment about health issues affecting our counties.  The Board membership must include one of each of the following: a county commissioner from each county, a licensed dentist, an optometrist, a veterinarian, a registered nurse, a pharmacist, a professional engineer and a physician. It also can include three members of the general public.

HCP: How many employees (full-time and part-time) work for the Toe River Health District?

Farley: The Toe River Health District employs approximately 55 people across Avery, Mitchell and Yancey Counties. Each health department houses about 15 workers each, and approximately 10 employees who works from the district office and covers all three counties.

HCP: Approximately how many individuals and families does the Toe River Health District serve weekly in Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties through the various services it offers?

Farley: During a normal day, each health department has between 10 to 20 patients or works with about 300 families a week. This includes clinic services, laboratory appointments, WIC patients, environmental health and social service needs.

HCP: Are all services given by the Toe River District in-house at each health department in the three counties or are mobile services also available where nurses and other health care professionals go to patient’s homes to treat them?

Farley: Most of the services TRHD offers to patients are in-house. However, we do perform several services off site when we are needed. Many of the mobile clinics we offer involve immunizations. TRHD offer flu shot clinics to all school students and staff in the three county area; to local Head Start students and staff; to rest home residents, assisted living patients, senior citizen centers and local industries who are interested.   If certain situations are presented to us and our services are needed, we usually make a way for the patient to get what he/she needs either on-site or off-site.

HCP: What are the biggest challenges facing the Toe River Health District in particular and the health profession in general during the next couple years and into the 2020 decade?

Farley: One of the biggest challenges that TRHD faces is funding. Budget cuts are always a strain to the services we provide to the community. We continually are searching for new innovative ideas and listening to the needs of our county to make sure we are addressing barriers and gaps to health issues, while at the same time taking advantage of grant opportunities to supplement our existing budget.

HCP: Does the Toe River Health District and its departments receive Federal, State and local funding?   Also, do the health departments also sponsor fundraisers and if so, when and where are they held?
Each health department is funded by state and local monies. The health departments do not sponsor fundraisers. We have a few donations come in from anonymous donors that are allocated to specific needs in the community, such as cancer prevention and treatment, social determinants/needs of struggling community members, food insecurity, diapers and formula needs, etc.

The TRHD is very strategic about staying up to date with grant opportunities and applying for those which apply to us and what we are planning to do in the communities we live, work and play in.

HCP: In detail, what various services are offered by the health departments in the Toe River District?


GENERAL HEALTH CARE: Sick Visits, Minor Injury Visits, & Annual Well Visits; Laboratory Services and Immunizations for people of all ages 

WOMEN’S HEALTH: Breast & Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) that includes breast self-exam, mammograms, and PAP smears, and referrals for abnormal test; TRHD also provides Breastfeeding Support, Pregnancy Care Management (OBCM) that   provides support, education, and assists with concerns during pregnancy and postpartum

COMMUNICABLE DISEASE PREVENTION: Sexually Transmitted Infections Counseling, Testing, & Treatment, Investigation and Control of Reportable Communicable Diseases, TB Screening & Treatment, and Outbreak Investigation & Management

CHILD & TEEN HEALTH: Well Child Physicals, Sick Visits, Developmental Screenings, and Dental Varnishing. TRHD also offers Mitchell Yancey Healthy Families Program which is a voluntary, free home visiting program designed to help new parents become great parents. We have WIC (Women, Infants and Children) Program, a supplemental nutrition program that provides healthy foods, health referrals, breastfeeding support and eating tips for you and your child. Each local health departments offer Care Coordination for Children (CC4C) that improves your child’s care by linking you to services that meet the specific needs of your child & family.

FAMILY PLANNING: Offering services such as Birth Control Methods, Emergency Contraceptive, Pregnancy Test, Adolescent/Adult Immunizations, STI & HIV Testing, Treatment, and Counseling; Education and Counseling on Birth Control Methods, Risk of STI’s, Depression, and Domestic Violence Awareness, and a variety of Birth Control Methods. 

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: Implements local and state ordinances to minimize environmental problems; Explores public health & environmental complaints; Issues Septic and Well Permits & offers Water Testing; Conducts Permitting, Inspecting, and Grading of all regulated food and lodging businesses; Investigates food borne illness; Conducts Inspection of public pools

OTHER PROGRAM BASED SERVICES: Emergency Preparedness that prepares the area for Disasters; Provides preparedness education & resources. TRHD also offers Health Promotion & Education that provides information to the public; Provides healthy living education; Partners with various community groups to complete Health Assessments and Action Plans and promote Health Policy, Program, & Environment changes        

HCP: What determines eligibility for individuals and families to use health services offered by the Toe River Health District entities?

Farley: The health department operates on a sliding fee scale based on income and family size. We try our best to work with everyone who wants to be seen at the health departments. Our goal is get the patient taken care of regardless of their ability to pay at that time. We accept the following forms of payment types at each health department: Cash or Check, Debit/Credit Card, Medical Insurance, Medicaid, Medicare and Health Check/Health Choice.

HCP: How can those in need of medical treatments or related health services or who wish to learn more about the Toe River Health District and its health departments do so?

Farley: The TRHD’s staff is available to answer any questions or help with details about our current community health and wellness services and resources. People can call us, visit our website, find us on Facebook and Instagram, and/or come in and visit us at the Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey county sites. Our web site address is: toeriverhealth.org and my office phone number is (828) 688-1209 if I can specifically help in any way.