A ceremony on Monday commemorating 125 years of public health in the state of Florida will be presided over by Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. John H. Armstrong, and will include a retrospective on the role Key Westers such as Dr. Joseph Yates Porter, Florida's first public health officer, have played.
"It's really about celebrating public health throughout Florida, but with a Monroe County angle," said Chris Tittel, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County (DOH.) "We're going to acknowledge Porter's many contributions to the department."
Armstrong will attend a wreath-laying ceremony at Porter's gravesite, alongside DOH Administrator Bob Eadie, County Mayor Sylvia Murphy, Porter's great-great granddaughter Suzanne Campbell, and Clinton Curry, who will do a conch shell blowing during the wreath laying.
This will be followed by a 10 a.m. meet-and-greet at the department's office in the Gato Building on Simonton Street. Then at a community meeting at 11 a.m. in the building's conference room, DOH Administrative Services Director Mary Vanden Brook will give a Power Point presentation on the evolution of public health in the state.
At the time of Porter's appointment, and the creation of the department in 1889, Florida had a population of just 400,000 people, with 18,080 of them in the state's largest city, Key West. The State Board of Health, as it was then called, was headquartered in Jacksonville, and the top health concerns it dealt with were yellow fever, smallpox and cholera.
As one of the most reputable physicians in the state, Porter was picked to lead the new agency.
"Porter had been trained at the University of Pennsylvania, which was the premier medical school of the day," said Monroe County historian Tom Hambright. "So, he had a statewide reputation, especially with regards to his work in reducing yellow fever infections. Porter's greatest contribution was a strict quarantine system, which was a huge fight at first."
Vanden Brook's presentation will provide a timeline of county health issues up to the present day, through the use of newspaper clippings and photos.
"Conch Five Studios at Key West High School has also put together a short video of interviews with DOH employees on their experiences in public health in the Florida Keys," Tittel said. "In addition, we're going to have healthy snacks at the meet-and-greet, as part of the surgeon general's Healthiest Weight Initiative, which aims to ensure that Floridians have the healthiest weights in the nation."
Monday's events are by invitation only, due to space limitations, but on Feb. 20, the actual anniversary of the founding of the board, the local DOH office will distribute a booklet containing a retrospective on public health in the Florida Keys dating back to the opening of the Monroe County Health Unit, the first permanent DOH office in Key West, in 1936.