Elsa DeHart is the new public health nurse in Haines.

DeHart, who worked the past three years as a public health nurse in Kodiak, replaces Monica Acton, who served here 10 years and recently moved to Sitka.

DeHart has worked 11 years as a nurse and started into the health profession as a midwife. She has four grown children and seven grandchildren. She said she was attracted to public health nursing by its service orientation.

“I was never really a hospital nurse. I wanted to use more of my skills. I like teaching and the family part of the job,” DeHart said last week. A fellowship she won in nursing school that exposed her to national and international nursing leaders helped galvanize her decision, she said.

“It gave me the sense of the whole wide world and public health. I felt like I had to give something back to the country. Something bigger,” DeHart said.

The state Division of Public Health focuses on prevention and services offered at the local office include childhood immunizations, contraception, tuberculosis screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV.

“We look at the whole community as our client, instead of individuals,” she said.

Statewide, the public health division is moving away from a former focus on infant care and toward emergency preparedness and prevention of epidemics. “The thing with public health is that when it’s working, nobody notices, but then when there’s a big outbreak, like of H1N1 (swine flu), everybody’s screaming, ‘Where is our public health?’”

DeHart said she’ll be assessing the community to help determine what other programs might be of interest here. “What the community wants is what we’ll work on, but it has to come from the community.”

One change is that, due to federal budget cuts, the office no longer will offer adult immunizations, including flu shots, as the state is no longer supplying vaccine. “That’s really going to change what we do. That’ll change the scope quite a bit. We’ll see what we can get done next year.”

The public health nurse office has a sliding scale and is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in the Gateway Building on Main Street. Appointments are not necessary.

DeHart said her office is open to all kinds of inquiries concerning health. “If anybody has questions, we can try to get them connected to whoever can help them. People come up with interesting things they need help with.”