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The first public health push from Rock Island County officials 50 years ago was to provide home health nursing as well as care for those with tuberculosis.

It was 1966, and three nurses made 2,072 home visits to 66 patients during the agency's first year of operation.

On Tuesday, the Rock Island County Health Department celebrated 50 years of service sharing memories of the past and a focus on the future.

Today, the public health community worries about Ebola and the Zika viruses, treats men and women for preventative health, administers the federal Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, food and nutrition program and tends to dozens of other duties.

The department works out of a building at 2112 25th Ave., next to Trinity Rock Island. The structure was dedicated in 1986 and is full of clinics, waiting rooms and offices.

The number of services open to qualified members of the public initially surprised Andrew Forbes, who heads up the smoking cessation program.

"Unless you use the services, you don't realize the number and the variety here," he said.

Nita Ludwig, selected as department director a year ago, said public health efforts typically mirror trends in the medical community. Years ago, there was a tuberculosis outbreak, for example.

More recently, the 9/11 terror attacks funneled federal dollars into emergency preparedness. The department will sponsor a full-scale public emergency exercise in June, Ludwig said.

"I think we've come a long way in 50 years, and we have so many programs people don't even realize we have," she said.

Ed Langdon, a two-year member of the department's board of directors, is concerned about the tight budget. State grants have been cut and workers make sacrifices as they provide health needs to vulnerable residents.

"That worries me very much," he said.

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