CELINA - Mercer County Health District officials bid farewell to longtime nursing director Julia Shaffer, who has retired after nearly 20 years of service.
Shaffer was named nursing director in 2013. She said her role has been flexible over the last decade, adapting to meet the community's evolving needs. Her focus, though, has largely been on disease prevention and communicable diseases.
Communicable diseases are illnesses caused by viruses or bacteria that spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, bodily fluids, blood products, insect bites or through the air, according to the National Institutes of Health. Some examples of communicable diseases include HIV, hepatitis A, B and C, salmonella, measles and blood-borne illnesses.
Shaffer noted that she first came to the health district after 9/11, which changed how health departments and other agencies treat emergencies. Because of that, health district staff underwent additional emergency preparedness training, which she said was vital during the H1N1 pandemic of 2009.
The H1N1 flu, sometimes called swine flu, is a type of influenza A virus, according to the Mayo Clinic. During the 2009-2010 flu season, a new H1N1 virus began causing illness in humans. It was often called swine flu and was a new combination of influenza viruses that infect pigs, birds and humans.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the H1N1 flu to be a pandemic in 2009. That year the virus caused an estimated 284,400 deaths worldwide, according to the Mayor Clinic.
The WHO declared the pandemic over in August 2010, but the H1N1 virus continues to circulate as a seasonal virus and is included in the vaccines against seasonal influenza.
The lessons learned from the H1N1 pandemic proved to be useful during the COVID-19 pandemic .
"That's something I guess that we've been training for all along," she said.
Shaffer said one challenge arising amid the COVID-19 pandemic was ever-changing information as scientists learned more about the new disease.
"People got used to having information right away and it was a situation where you did not know about the organism, you didn't know for sure what it was, how it was bred, how to stop it," she said. "It didn't have any kind of treatment, anything to prevent it other than the basic hand washing and distancing. Limiting the spread of the virus is really all we had at the beginning."
At the same time, scientists were using strategies they knew to fight the coronavirus, Shaffer said.
"A lot of the scientific knowledge that was needed for the intervention or treatment and prevention had already been in the starts," she said. "They knew how to make monoclonal antibodies, and they knew how to make the vaccine. So it was already in the process. It just took some time."
Shaffer said there have been many changes in her line of work over the years, most notably vaccines.
"There are a lot of these vaccines that we have now that we didn't have then. So we had a lot of kids that we'd take care of that had bacterial meningitis and they'd stay at Coldwater (Mercer Health), they didn't get shipped down to Dayton (hospitals) because there was so much meningitis," she said. "At that time, that was pretty standard. So to be able to have these vaccines and prevent those diseases, (that) was just very special to me. When I had my first baby, (those) vaccines weren't available, but as soon as they were available I made sure that she had them."
Shaffer earned her bachelor's degree in nursing from St. Marys College at Notre Dame in 1982 and began working at various hospitals, first at St. Rita's Hospital and later the pediatric ward at Mercer County Joint Township Community Hospital, now Mercer Health.
Shaffer then worked in hospice care at State of the Heart and Briarwood Village. After working evenings in the urgent care department at Mercer Health, she began working part-time at the health district in the immunization clinic.
"When I came back, working in the immunization clinic, I didn't realize how much of this is pediatrics," she said. She said her favorite part of the job has been "being around the families of the children."
Although her retirement will officially take effect at the end of December, Shaffer is using her vacation time until the end of her term. Her last day in the health district office was Nov. 8.
Assistant nursing director Misty Kleman took over as nursing director on Monday, health commissioner Jason Menchhofer said. He said health district officials greatly appreciate Shaffer's 19 years of service. He added that Kleman should be well-prepared for the role, as she's been under Shaffer's wing as assistant director since September of 2020.