Archive for Wednesday, November 5, 2003

For new director, visibility is key

November 5, 2003

After serving as interim administrator of the Leavenworth County Health Department three times, nurse Sylvia Burns is now the official director.

A 15-year veteran of the health department, Burns is waiting to get through this month's work activities before settling down to plan the department's future.

"We're in the flu vaccine season, so things are pretty hectic," Burns said Friday morning. "I haven't really been able to sit down to draft out the goals that I want to achieve."

But one thing she's certain of is this: "I want to try to get the health department to be more visible in the community," Burns said. "That means not just in the city, but the whole county area."

When Burns began working at the health department, Frankie Jackson was the administrator. In the last two years, two other administrators -- Allan Humphries and Chuck McMaster -- have come and gone. But Burns, who has lived in Leavenworth since 1985, plans to stay.

A native of St. Joseph, Mo., Burns graduated in 1964 from St. Mary's Hospital school of nursing in Kansas City, Mo. After she married, she and her husband, Chester Burns, lived throughout the United States and overseas. In 1985, his last assignment moved the family to Leavenworth. Sylvia's aging parents were nearby.

"That worked out really well that we were close to home," she said.

Three years later her husband retired. Chester now works as a conditional release officer for the county's juvenile detention center.

The couple's children, or their first family, have grown up and moved on. But their youngest, an 8-year-old Haitian girl named Stephanie Noel, is still at home. The couple adopted Stephanie three years ago. At the time the 5-year-old girl lived in an orphanage in Haiti. She came to America not speaking the language of her new parents.

"They speak Creole, which is a form of French, so we taught her English when we got here," Burns said.

It only seems natural that Burns would be interested in adopting a child after her own were grown. After all, she said working with children in a health department gives meaning to her job. The bulk of those who frequent the clinic are young -- children from birth to age 6.

"I love pediatrics," Burns said.

And she loves teaching people how to live healthier.

"Being able to teach the people about health issues and then help them adopt better health issues to stay well," Burns said. "That's kind of what we're all about is prevention and teaching."

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