Stefanovsky Markets Public Health

    HOLLAND — After years of elaborate marketing by tobacco and liquor companies, as well as years of promotion of fatty foods and even a return to the drug culture, the forces of good in Ottawa County are moving to strike back. And they’re fighting marketing with marketing.

    “Think about marketing something like toothpaste or a magazine,” said Lisa Stefanovsky, director of the Ottawa County Health Department’s Health Promotion Division. “We know how to market toothpaste, how to get people to buy that and other products. So why not do the same to promote a change in attitudes and behaviors? We just have to make people want to do it.”

    Social marketing is the future of the health industry, said Stefanovsky, who has implemented a multitude of programs aimed at marketing positive behaviors and social change among adults and children alike in Ottawa County.

    After graduating from East Kentwood High School in Grand Rapids, then Northern Michigan University, Stefanovsky bounced around a number of contract jobs, got married, then settled into a position with the American Red Cross as its local blood program director. After a three-year stint there, she took a job as a coordinator with the Health Promotion Division, and five years later, in 1995, was promoted to director.

    The OCHD is divided into three divisions: Environmental Health, Public Health Services and Health Promotion.

    “Most of our people are involved in different areas of education,” she said. “We get to do all the fun stuff.”

    Her staff is involved in school programs on issues such as sex education, HIV prevention, teenage pregnancy, physical fitness and substance abuse. Notable programs include Mother Knows Best and Attitudes Matter. Mother Knows Best deals with teenage pregnancy and brings teen mothers into schools to talk about some of the difficulties they’ve experienced. The program also includes prenatal classes specially designed for teens for those who do become pregnant.

    Attitudes Matter, which Stefanovsky explained as “terribly exciting,” is an in-depth marketing program aimed at creating awareness of the problems of teenage drinking.

    Other programs include chronic disease prevention, physical activity awareness, and an instructive program for weight loss that is based more on education than diet. Simply put, she said, it focuses on helping people to better identify when they are really hungry.

    The division also has a tobacco cessation program that features a one-on-one counseling program tailored to the specific needs of smokers who are trying to kick the habit.

    “We try to market the product to get them to change behavior,” Stefanovsky said. “We conduct a community health assessment to identify the changing behaviors and health status of our community. Then we design our programs to meet the needs of the community, as well as encourage others to implement similar programs. All of our programs are based on some kind of assessment and research, and we always work closely with the community, partnering with schools, hospitals, the family court and others.”

    As director, Stefanovsky has seen her division grow from a staff of six to 14, and has branched out into several new areas. The department never offered a program on oral health, but now, in addition to supplying education on oral health, OCHD conducts Miles of Smiles, an effort that uses 52 volunteer dentists and a full dental clinic within a large bus to “break the transportation” objection and bring dental care to those who need it. Miles of Smiles travels to schools and treats children eligible for Medicaid, some of whom might not have been able to find transportation to a dentist’s office.

    Also, in the past three years, Stefanovsky’s division has for the first time received financial support to conduct a substance abuse prevention program, including Attitudes Matter. The new-found support, she said, is the result of assistance from County Administrator Bob Oosterbaan, and also has led to the tobacco cessation program and a multitude of billboards and advertisements aimed at preventing chronic disease.

    “We’re very fortunate to be in a county that is supportive of prevention education programs,” she added. 

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