A Casper native became the new executive director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department earlier this month, bringing with her “big ambitions” and a desire to shore up the agency in the coming months.
Anna Kinder, who previously worked on a state and national level in AIDS prevention and awareness, has a family history in Casper that goes back decades. An occupational therapist by training, Kinder moved into the public health world 19 years ago after growing frustrated with restrictions placed on her field of therapy by Medicare.
She was traveling often for her roles with AETC — AIDS Education and Training Center. A family emergency prompted her to consider being “grounded more,” and when the previous health director in Casper — Kelly Weidenbach — announced late last year that she was leaving for a job in Colorado, Kinder decided to apply.
She said that she was also drawn to apply because of the plethora of challenges facing Natrona County. A sweeping county health report released last summer showed the central Wyoming county had high rates of alcohol and tobacco use. Rates of liver disease were also high, as were the county’s suicide rates. People here die from heart disease and cancer at higher rates than elsewhere in the state, and there are significantly fewer grocery stores here than on average in the Equality State. STD rates are spiking across the state and particularly here. The list goes on.
Kinder’s hiring was announced in late May, and she formally took over on July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year. She said she was primarily focused now on working internally in the department before she could turn all of her energy externally.
That inner-department work is focused on filling all the open jobs — a task that’s almost completed — and working with her staff to continue everyone’s training and ensure the department is deploying its resources adequately. After all, Kinder said, the agency did not have an executive director for more than six months.
“We have a lot of talent here that we’re not maximizing,” she said.
Still, she said the pressing needs identified in last year’s report — high rates of alcohol abuse and suicide, low access to healthy food and other public health concerns — were all significant.
She’d like to make the department a hub to help people navigate the health care system, though she stressed that’s an idea that’s very much in its infancy. It certainly isn’t fully fleshed out yet, but — as an example — she said that such a program could be used to help diabetics get needles, for instance.
Like other health officials in the area before her, Kinder said she was eager to collaborate with other groups and entities nearby. She threw out the city and county governments, as well as Wyoming Medical Center, as potential future partners. She said she wanted to make the public more aware of the many programs that the health department runs, something she said will be another priority for her going forward.
That marketing effort will likely receive a boost in September, when the department celebrates its 65th year working for public health in Casper and Natrona County.
Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann