Celebrating LGBTQIA+ Community & Services

June is LGBTQIA+ Pride Month! We want everyone to know: no matter who you are, you are welcome here.

Local Pride Events

This year, there are many events celebrating Pride month in Malheur County and Eastern Oregon. See the One Community All Spirits Stronger Together event flyer here and the EOCIL Pride program here. Follow our Events Calendar and contact us if you would like to add your community event.

Public Health & Pride

Public health supports Pride month and is active in LGBTQIA+ advocacy because creating an inclusive healthcare environment doesn’t just take care of the LGBTQIA+ patient population, it takes care of all of us. We all benefit when the people around us are healthier. (LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more.) People who are LGBTQIA+ have a variety of health needs and often experience health disparities, placing them at risk for negative health outcomes. Health disparities typically result from a lack of access to adequate healthcare. In public health, we care for everyone in our county, especially our most vulnerable.

The Malheur County Health Department (MCHD) provides compassionate, high quality care for all people in Malheur County, including LGBTQIA+ individuals of all ages. We want to address the disparities and improve health outcomes for all.

We are proud to offer many services, including:

  • Rapid HIV testing, referral, and connection to treatment
  • Sexually Transmitted Infection testing and treatment
  • Communicable disease testing and treatment, including tuberculosis and hepatitis
  • Wide range of birth control options
  • Immunizations, including HPV for all ages 9-26
  • Home Visiting programs for children under age 5 and pregnant people
  • Pregnancy testing and counseling
  • Tobacco prevention and education
  • Birth and death certificates, available within 6 months of event
  • WIC nutrition program for qualifying children under age 5 and pregnant people

We are a community of all sexual orientations and gender identities and have a variety of health needs. MCHD serves all people regardless of ability to pay, with a few low-cost exceptions. No one will be denied services based on immigration status, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, nationality, or religious affiliation. We also accepts Medicare, Medicaid, and most private health insurance. If you do not have insurance, we have staff who can help you sign up for the Oregon Health Plan or determine your eligibility for other assistance programs.

We provide confidential care at low or no cost for a variety of important services that are available to all in our county. Whether it’s testing for sexually transmitted infections, accessing birth control, or getting WIC services, we are here for you. We have a safe space and are grateful for the chance to serve you.

People who are LGBTQIA+ are members of every community, including ours. They are diverse, come from all walks of life, and include people of all races and ethnicities, all ages, all socioeconomic statuses, and from all parts of the country. The perspectives and needs of LGBTQIA+ people should be routinely considered in public health efforts to improve the overall health of every person and eliminate health disparities.

According to the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, when compared to their heterosexual peers, LGBTQIA+ students are more likely to have been bullied at school, seriously considered suicide, felt sad or hopeless, used illicit drugs, been forced to have sex, and misused prescription opioids.

Find excellent resources for LGBTQIA+ Youth, Educators, and Family LGBTQ+ Youth Resources and more general resources for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health from the CDC. For healthcare providers, the American Academy of Family Physicians provides a highly-recommended LGBTQ Health Toolkit.

World No Tobacco Day

Today is World No Tobacco Day, giving us an opportunity to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use.

The World Health Organization (WHO) presents World No Tobacco Day each year on May 31st to highlight the harmful effects of cigarettes and other tobacco products on a person’s overall health. In Malheur County, we want to focus on preventing youth tobacco product use and the tobacco industry’s attempts to attract youth. Tobacco is dangerous, and it’s pushed by a dishonest industry. That hurts everyone in Malheur County, whether we use tobacco or not.

Using any kind of tobacco product is unsafe, especially for kids, teens, and young adults.

The younger a person starts using tobacco products, the more likely they are to become dependent on nicotine. The tobacco industry uses this information to attract youth and young people to their products through ads and sponsorships in stores, online, in media, and at cultural events.

The flavors in tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, make these products appealing to kids and teens. Since 2009, tobacco companies have not been allowed to sell cigarettes in flavors other than menthol in the U.S. Still, youth are more likely than adults to smoke menthol cigarettes. Flavoring is also a major driver of e-cigarette use among young people. More than 2 out of 3 youth who currently use e-cigarettes use flavored e-cigarettes, and flavors are a major reason they report starting to use e-cigarettes.

Watch this excellent video from University of Washington Medicine on advice to quit vaping:

If you know someone who is ready to quit using tobacco, help link them to the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line. Free counseling and medication (patch and gum) is available for people to quit smoking, vaping or other tobacco products. Free for all adults and youth over age 13 living in Oregon. Insurance not needed.  Coaches are there 24/7. They are real people who have helped others quit for good—no judgments, just help. Learn more about what happens when you call the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line.

In English
Text “READY” to 200-400
Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)

En Español
Call 1-855-DEJELO-YA (1-855-335356-92)

Since 2014, most U.S. youth who said they had ever used tobacco products reported using e-cigarettes, and the percentage has grown over time. E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine, and newer e-cigarettes use a new form of it called nicotine salts, which make it easier to inhale higher levels of nicotine.

Because of the recent rise in e-cigarette use by US middle and high school students, CDC offers resources for parentsteachers, and healthcare providers to help them talk to kids about e-cigarettes.

Everyone—from those who influence youth directly to whole communities—can help prevent children, teenagers, and young adults from trying and using tobacco products.

Parents and other caregivers can:

  • Set a good example by being tobacco-free (call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit smokefree.gov and smokefreeoregon.com for help with quitting)
  • Talk to kids about the harms of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes
  • Know what children watch, and talk about tobacco use onscreen
  • Tell kids you expect them not to use tobacco products, or to stop using them
  • Refuse to give tobacco products to kids, teens, or young adults

The Office of the Surgeon General has more tips for parents and caregivers to help keep young people tobacco-free.

Healthcare providers can:

  • Talk to their patients about the dangers of tobacco use (in a 2015 survey, only 1 out of 3 U.S. high schoolers said their doctor brought up smoking during a visit)
  • Ask patients if they use tobacco products, and advise them to quit

CDC offers resources and tools to help providers start the conversation about tobacco and quitting.

If everyone works together to keep youth safe from the harms of tobacco use, we can move further toward a healthier, smoke-free world.

Memorial Day: Praying for Permanent Peace

The Malheur County Health Department will be closed for the Memorial Day holiday, Monday, May 29, 2023, in honor and mourning of the people who who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in 1868 following the Civil War. It became an official federal holiday in 1971. The current proclamation calls “on the people of the United States to observe Memorial Day by praying, according to their individual religious faith, for permanent peace; designating a period of time on Memorial Day during which the people may unite in prayer for a permanent peace; calling on the people of the United States to unite in prayer at that time; and calling on the media to join in observing Memorial Day and the period of prayer.”

Many Americans observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries or memorials, holding family gatherings and participating in parades. Unofficially, it marks the beginning of the summer season. (Remember your sunscreen and bug spray, drink responsibly, and stay safe!)

In in 2022, the National Cemetery Administration, a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs, credited Mary Ann Williams with originating the “idea of strewing the graves of Civil War soldiers—Union and Confederate” with flowers. This Memorial Day, let us remember those who courageously gave their lives.

We will reopen our office and clinic Tuesday, May 30th at 8:30 a.m.

2023-2026 MCHD Strategic Plan Released

The Malheur County Health Department has released its strategic plan for 2023–2026. Outlined in the plan are the department’s mission, vision, and values, as well as the goals for each of the core programs:

  1. Emergency Preparedness
  2. Vital Records
  3. Peer Support
  4. Modernization
  5. Maternal and Child Health
  6. WIC & Nutrition
  7. Family Planning
  8. Tobacco Prevention & Education
  9. Oregon Health Plan Application Assistance
  10. Communicable Disease
  11. Immunizations

The MCHD 2023-2026 Strategic Plan can be found here.

In the Letter from the Director at the start of the plan, Sarah Poe declares, “Every day, we protect people in Malheur County from health threats, promote healthy behaviors, and offer protection from diseases. Our focus going forward is to collaborate with community partners, engage the people who are at highest risk, and to use and share data to educate, inform, and inspire people to work with us. Together, we will have a measurable and meaningful impact on the health of all in Malheur County. Help us bring this plan to life!”

The Strategic Plan concludes with a call to action. “Please reach out and join us. Public health is for everyone, and we need your support to fully realize a healthy Malheur County for all. Come by our office, give us a call, invite us to collaborate, and follow us on social media and at MalheurHealth.org.”

The public can reach out to the Malheur County Health Department at 1108 NW 4th Street, Ontario, Oregon and by calling 541-889-7279.

Any local organization can request a Public Health Presentation by reaching out to Sarah Poe directly at sarah.poe@malhuerco.org or 541-889-3227.

World No Tobacco Day is coming up!

Join us in celebrating World No Tobacco Day on May 31, 2023. In Malheur County, Oregon, 20% of adults are current cigarette smokers, compared with just 14% in Oregon and 16% nationally. Morrow County and Lake County also tie with Malheur for 20%, the highest rate in Oregon. Each year approximately 480,000 premature deaths can be attributed to smoking in the United States. We also have a higher rate of poor health and premature death in Malheur County, well above the state and national averages. Cigarette smoking is identified as a cause of various cancers, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory conditions, as well as low birthweight and other adverse health outcomes. These poor health outcomes due to tobacco use are preventable!

Help us raise awareness and plan to join us in advertising both World No Tobacco Day, Smokefree Oregon, and the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line.

Oregon Tobacco Quit Line

Are you ready to quit? You are not alone. More than six out of ten Oregon tobacco users want to quit. And there’s help to do just that.

The Oregon Tobacco Quit Line is a free program offering tips, information, one-on-one counseling and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to anyone looking to quit. Available to all Oregonians regardless of income or insurance status, the Quit Line is staffed by real people who are friendly and non-judgmental. Quit coaches will help you make your own plan to fit your own life. No pressure, no guilt. Coaches can even help you get free nicotine gum or the patch.

Quitting tobacco is the best thing you can do to immediately improve your health. You can quit. The Oregon Tobacco Quit Line can help.

The Oregon Tobacco Quit Line is open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Coaching is available in many languages.

For help in English, text “READY” to 200-400, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visit www.quitnow.net/Oregon.

Español: 1-855-DEJELO-YA (1-855-335356-92), www.quitnow.net/oregonsp

TTY: 1-877-777-6534

Do you have all recommended COVID-19 boosters?

A COVID-19 booster is also known as an updated vaccine dose. The updated vaccines are called “updated” because they protect against both the original virus that causes COVID-19 and the Omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5. Two COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have developed updated COVID-19 vaccines.

Here’s the latest, simplified guidance from the CDC:

  • Everyone aged 6 years and older should get 1 updated (booster) Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to be up to date.
  • People aged 65 years and older may get a 2nd dose of updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
  • People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised may get additional doses of updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Children aged 6 months–5 years may need multiple doses of COVID-19 vaccine to be up to date, including at least 1 dose of updated Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, depending on the number of doses they’ve previously received and their age.
  • COVID-19 vaccine recommendations will be updated as needed.
  • Some people may get additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines:
    • People aged 65 years and older may get 1 additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine 4 or more months after the 1st updated COVID-19 vaccine.
    • People who are moderately or severely immunocompromised may get 1 additional dose of updated COVID-19 vaccine 2 or more months after the last updated COVID-19 vaccine.

This means that for people aged 65 and older and for people who are immunocompromised, you may get a third updated (booster) if it has been long enough since your last dose.

If you are not sure what vaccines you’ve received or are eligible, we can look up both the Idaho and Oregon vaccine registries to get your information.

Call our office at 541-889-7279 to make an appointment. We also welcome walk-ins for all of our services, any weekday. Make sure you are as protected as possible!

Mpox vaccines are free, abundant and available to anyone

It’s been almost a year since Oregon reported its first case of mpox (monkeypox). That number has since risen to 279, including two pediatric cases (under age 18). But new cases have been trickling in slowly, and the initial fears shared by health experts about potential spread and illness have shifted to cautious optimism.

“We feel pretty good about the progress we made over the past year in terms of preparedness,” said Dr. Tim Menza, OHA senior health advisor and OHA’s Office of Recovery and Resilience. “Due to the work of the queer and transgender community, local public health partners and health care providers throughout Oregon, the mpox outbreak has been relatively contained in Oregon. We now have the necessary tools to prevent a resurgence.”

Those tools include an ample supply of mpox vaccines, which wasn’t the case a year ago.

The Jynneos vaccine against mpox is available to anyone who wants it, of any age, for free. It is administered in two doses, received at least 28 days apart. If someone received only one dose a year ago, for example, they can still get the second dose now, without restarting the series.

The Malheur County Health Department has Mpox vaccine available. Call our clinic at 541-889-7279 to schedule an appointment.

“At this point, we encourage anyone who wants to be vaccinated against mpox to get vaccinated,” Menza said. “We also have better access to testing and treatment, stronger community partnerships for outreach, education and vaccine events, as well as very good data on mpox cases to guide Oregon’s outbreak response.”

Mpox causes often painful skin lesions that usually heal in two to four weeks without medical treatment, and it spreads primarily through prolonged and close skin-to-skin contact. While mpox most often spreads during sexual contact, sex is not required for mpox to spread. Out of more than 30,000 cases in the United States since the outbreak began, 42 people have died. The majority of deaths have occurred among people living with advanced or untreated HIV or other immunocompromising conditions. In Oregon, five people have been hospitalized with mpox to date, and none has died.

  • Global – 87,314 cases, including 129 deaths (as of May 9)
  • United States – 30,395 cases, including 42 deaths (as of May 10)
  • Oregon – 279 cases, including 5 hospitalizations; 0 deaths (as of May 11)

Globally, the World Health Organization has just declared the mpox outbreak no longer a global health emergency, recommending a shift to a “robust, proactive and sustainable mpox response and control program,” versus the emergency status.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not declared the mpox outbreak over, but things have slowed down dramatically.

Here in Oregon, the rate of new mpox cases peaked in August 2022 at about 10 per week. Now, the state has diagnosed five new cases in the past three months. The question is: do these sporadic new cases represent on-going, steady, low-level virus transmission that’s here to stay, or do they signal a possible future end to all mpox transmission?

Unfortunately, we’re not yet able to answer that question.

Menza is paying close attention to mpox resurgences happening in other places, specifically new clusters of cases in Chicago, France and South Korea.

“Those outbreaks raise our level of concern,” Menza said. “Moving toward summer travel and Pride events across Oregon and the U.S. over the next several months, we could see a similar situation with increased cases in Oregon.”

If you’re planning to travel this summer, especially to places reporting recent clusters of new cases, Menza advises the best way to protect yourself and prevent a resurgence back home in Oregon is to get vaccinated.

State lifts COVID-19 response measures as federal emergency ends

Lifting of COVID-19 vaccine requirement for education, health care workers among other changes taking effect in coming weeks

In alignment with the federal COVID-19 public health emergency ending May 11, state health officials today announced the lifting of health-protective measures that helped reduce COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and expanded access to services during the pandemic.

The changes affect a wide range of programs and services. Some changes are effective May 11, and others will take effect in the coming weeks. Other changes put in place during the COVID-19 emergency will continue after the end of the federal emergency.

“These changes are an acknowledgement of the progress we’ve made over the last three-plus years,” said Dean Sidelinger, M.D., M.S.Ed., health officer and state epidemiologist at OHA. “However, we know COVID-19 will remain a part of our lives for years to come, so we need to continue taking steps that prevent its spread, such as staying up to date with vaccinations. My thoughts go out to those sick with COVID-19, mourning a loved one, or still suffering with symptoms following their acute infection.”

Highlights of the changes resulting from the ending of the federal public health emergency are as follows:

Vaccination requirements

Effective Thursday (May 11), workers in health care settings will no longer be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under state rules, OHA announced today. A similar vaccination requirement for teachers and school staff in private and public education settings will lift June 17, the end of the last week of school, to support consistency in student instruction through this school year.

Exposure, isolation guidance

A five-day period of isolation for those infected with COVID-19 also will no longer be recommended for the general population, including people in K-12 education settings. Oregon public health officials believe widespread population immunity due to vaccination and repeated infections means many COVID-19 infections are now likely asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and the five-day isolation period is doing little to reduce transmission.

Instead, officials say, the recommendation for the general population will be to stay home until fever free for 24 hours and symptoms are improving; avoid contact with individuals at increased risk for severe disease, including older adults and those with underlying medical conditions; and consider masking for 10 days.

School testing

Diagnostic testing resources for students and staff with symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 in schools will remain available through July 31, 2024. iHealth self-tests will remain available for K-12 schools to request and distribute to their school communities until current stock is depleted. Weekly opt-in “screening” testing for K-12 students and staff without COVID-19 symptoms will end July 31 as funding for the effort wraps up.

The endings of the vaccination, isolation and some testing measures are among a spate of impending changes over the coming weeks as Oregon, and the nation, continue the long, careful transition out of the pandemic. A number of “flexibilities” put in place during the pandemic will remain in effect.

The following are among the COVID-era activities and requirements that will continue after May 11:

  • An extension of a 90-day “reasonable opportunity period” for non-citizens to verify citizenship or immigration status to 180 days so they can enroll in Oregon Health Plan (OHP).
  • A requirement that OHP providers, including coordinated care organizations, continue to cover COVID-19 vaccinations and treatment without cost sharing, and that commercial health insurers cover vaccinations without cost sharing. In Oregon, vaccinations are covered no matter where someone gets a shot. Oregonians should contact their health care provider about where they can get vaccinated.
  • A requirement that Oregon health care providers be reimbursed for language interpreter services (spoken or signed) provided during an office visit.
  • A requirement that OHP providers offer access to telehealth services.
  • In addition, state officials are currently implementing previously announced changes in access to Medicaid coverage and other human services programs administered by the state and federal governments.

The following are among many other changes taking effect May 11:

COVID-19 reporting

  • A change in how OHA monitors COVID-19. Epidemiologists will transition to a more sustainable and effective model that focuses on measures that indicate transmission, and continue monitoring for severe outcomes, including hospitalizations and death. Case data, which is based on individual laboratory test reporting and is heavily biased, will be retired. The changes align with CDC recommendations and mirror how influenza is monitored.
  • A change in how OHA reports COVID-19 data. Epidemiologists will streamline data reporting to a smaller number of dashboards updated weekly. Data visualizations will include graphs showing statewide percent positivity, wastewater levels and trends, distribution of variants, hospitalization rates and capacity, death counts, emergency department visit and vaccination trends. Dashboards with case counts and county data will be archived.

Health coverage, supports

  • The end of extended health coverage, services and supports for people with disabilities and older adults, and extra food benefits that were provided during federal emergency. Continuous coverage for Medicaid also is ending. Oregon began a “redetermination” process April 1 to help people renew their OHP membership and other Medicaid benefits, and stay on the plan, and is encouraging members to keep mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses current to ensure they receive information about their benefits in the coming months. More information about the renewals process and options for updating contact information is at oregon.gov/oha/phe. Those with questions can reach out to the ONE Customer Service Center at 800-699-9075 (TTY 711) from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday through Friday.

Syringe/Sharps Disposal Containers

We’ve had recent requests from other counties and community partners about our amazing sharps bins we’ve set up in Ontario, Nyssa, and Vale. Last year, we collected approximately 25,000 used syringes and 15,000 in 2021. These are safe ways to dispose of syringes left on the ground and from home. People can dispose used needles and syringes into sharps disposal drop boxes 24 hours a day, confidentially, and safely. We’re lucky to have a local business that has manufactured high-quality bins to fit the standard large, red sharps and biohazard waste containers.

The local business building these containers is Enterprise Sales. They can be contacted at 541-889-5541 or sharper@srvinet.com.

To learn more about the Malheur County Health Department syringe exchange and peer program, contact us at 541-889-7279.

Safety Tips

  • Avoid touching or handling needles or syringes found in public places. Parents and caregivers should remind children not to touch needles in parks and playgrounds.
  • If you are accidentally stuck by another person’s used needle or other sharp:
    • Wash the exposed area right away with water and soap or use a skin disinfectant (antiseptic) such as rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. 
    • Seek immediate medical attention by calling your provider right away or going to your local hospital emergency department. Providers will check your immunization status and may begin preventative treatment.

How do I safely dispose of a syringe?

Follow this step by step guide about how to safely pick up and dispose of syringes.

Step 1: Pick it up

To avoid health risk wear gloves like gardening or kitchen gloves. Some people use tongs, pliers, or a trash grabber. This is a good idea, especially for anyone who is going to pick up a lot of syringes or who is doing a community clean up. 

Step 2: Drop it in

  • Use a hard plastic container such as a sharps container or 20oz water or juice bottle with a lid.
  • Set the container on the ground
  • Drop the syringes in one at a time needle point down

Step 3: Seal it up

  • Close the container tight
  • Seal the top with a piece of tape
  • Label container “sharps do not recycle”

Step 4: Drop it off

Go to the nearest drop box and dispose of syringes one at a time to avoid potential harm.

Thank you for keeping our community safe.