Step it Up! Walking Challenge

Ottawa & Allegan County, lace up your walking shoes & get ready for a free 6-week walking challenge.

Ottawa and Allegan Parks and Recreation and Department of Public Health are teaming up to bring the community another Step it Up! Walking Challenge this spring. Participants will “virtually walk” 240 miles along regional trails in Michigan. The challenge begins on Monday, April 3! Registration is now open- register today!

This free, 6-week program is designed to help participants spring into fitness and get moving after a cold winter. Participants of all fitness levels are invited to join – weekly prizes are available.

Optional group walks will be offered for those interested in getting their weekly steps in with a group while checking out Ottawa & Allegan County Parks (schedule below). Each walk will be led by a naturalist guide. Different pace groups will be available.

Participants will be able to track their individual progress online, including their cumulative steps taken. The Ottawa County GIS Department designed a map to watch progress along the virtual trail. “When you login to track your steps, you’ll be able to see the weekly goal markers and also track your individual progress. It was great to team up with GIS again to create an interactive component,” said Parks spokesperson Jessica VanGinhoven.

Ottawa County will also release its new and improved tracking system for participants that was developed over the winter. “Participants will be able to track their progress on a weekly basis, just like before, but we’ve added the option to track progress daily,” said VanGinhoven. “The tracking program is also mobile-friendly, so you can record your activity from your phone. These changes were made based on participant feedback and should make tracking activity much easier.”

Past participants also enjoyed the program. In a survey following the program walk participants reported:

  • Great program to encourage people to exercise and use the county park system.
  • I loved this program! It motivated me to get walking again! I moved back to Holland two years ago and I learned a lot about the parks in Ottawa County through this program! I will be buying a pass and keep visiting our parks! Thank you very much!
  • It has helped us lose weight and feel so much better.
  • Prior to this challenge my daily steps were closer to 5,000 and since doing program I’m between 7,000-10,000 and some days way more. It challenged me to park further away and keep pedometer with me when walking around my house for a true count of my steps. Thanks for the motivation.

Registration is now open- register today!

URL:  Registration closes April 10.

Group Walk Schedule

April 8: Pine Bend Park, 10-11 AM

April 8: Outdoor Discovery Center, 10-11 AM

April 13: New Richmond Bridge Park, 10-11 AM

April 13: Rosy Mound Natural Area, 5:30-6:30 PM

April 22: Riley Trails, 10-11 AM

April 22: Bysterveld Park, 10-11 AM

April 27: Grand Ravines (North), 5:30-6:30 PM

May 2: Hemlock Crossing, 5:30-6:30 PM

May 6: Kirk Park, 3-4 PM

May 8: Allegan Sports Complex, 10-11 AM

May 11: Connor Bayou 5:30-7 PM – This walk will be followed by a family-friendly party at the Connor Bayou cabin!

Parks Naturalist, Kelly Morrissey, leads a walking group at Paw Paw County Park in Holland. Last spring, over 800 participants walked 106,609.6 miles – four times around the world!


Congratulations Dave Miller!

New Solid Waste Team Supervisor

Dave started with Ottawa County in February of 2012 as a sanitarian. His duties were split between the solid waste team and the on-site field team. The solid waste team ensures proper disposal of household hazardous waste, which can pollute the environment and pose a threat to people’s health ( The on-site field team ensures homeowner’s wastewater dispersal and water supply systems are functioning properly to protect public health (

Shortly thereafter, Dave moved into a full-time position with the on-site team; providing primarily well and septic inspection services. In July of 2015, he took over as the non-community water supply coordinator; where he continued in that role until recently becoming the solid waste team supervisor.

Since starting with Ottawa County, Dave has been involved in the Michigan Environmental Health Association (MEHA) and National Environmental Health Association. Participating in MEHA, Dave served as the MEHA Web and Tech Committee chairperson in 2012 through 2014. At the 2014 MEHA Annual Education Conference, he was the recipient of the David H McMullen – Young Professional of the Year Award. He was also the featured presenter, providing education on breweries and environmental health.

“As the solid waste team supervisor, I look forward to building on our past success to adapt to a quickly evolving environment,” said Dave Miller.

Sexual health educator receives preceptor award

Congratulations to Heather Alberda (Certifed Sexuality Educator with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health) for receiving the GVSU Midwest Interprofessional Practice, Education, and Research Center 2016 Outstanding Preceptor Award!

Heather was nominated by Lisa Wegner, GVSU Master in Public Health student. Preceptors play important roles in guiding students toward their future careers. Heather was Lisa’s preceptor during her practicum (September 2015-April 2016).

“Not only is Heather an exceptional health educator and preceptor, she is my number one mentor. I look up to her not only professionally but as a person. She gave me real life experience, while also equipping me with the knowledge and confidence I needed to become my own personal best in the public health field. Having an exceptional preceptor can really make or break a student and their readiness to enter the real world,” said Lisa.

Lisa was able to do health education with a variety of populations from high school students to adults, plan and implement her own health education event and do a health program evaluation. In addition to her practicum, Heather supported Lisa through her master’s research project. Today, Lisa is working at the Greater Ottawa County United Way. For more information about sexual health education, visit

Assisting terminally ill people with caring for and finding new families for their pets

Jill Bannink-Albrecht, environmental health clerk with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, works nights and weekends to serve her community by assisting terminally ill people with caring for and finding new families for their pets. Jill was interviewed by TODAY for an article about her non-profit organization – Tyson’s Place Animal Rescue. She operates without a facility but with a small network of foster homes that welcomes animals when their human owners become too sick to care for them.

Jill said she felt motivated to start Tyson’s Place after years of working at an animal shelter with a high euthanasia rate. “Older animals just didn’t have a chance there, and it was so sad when we’d get in older animals where the owner had passed away,” she recalled. “They’d often be traumatized and they wouldn’t show very well or seem adoptable. They were often the first to be put to sleep.”

News of the group’s existence spread quickly among hospice workers, who have its founder, Jill Bannink-Albrecht, on speed dial. To date, Tyson’s Place has helped 22 dogs, 15 cats and a 17-year-old cockatiel named Bubba. “I feel it’s really important to provide peace of mind to people who love their animals so much and are already dealing with something so stressful,” said Jill. “And it’s great to provide a second chance for the pets who might not have gotten it.”

Many of the animals who need to find new homes are older — often over the age of 10 — and Jill said that can be “a hard sell” even though the lifelong pets are well-adjusted and well-trained. To increase their chances of getting adopted, she arranges to have all their veterinary and grooming needs met — including anything that might have slipped while a family’s attention has been laser-focused on caring for a sick person.

Mission: Tyson’s Place Animal Rescue is dedicated to assisting terminally ill people with caring for and finding new families for their pets.,

Pictured: Jill Bannink-Albrecht, founder of Tyson’s Place Animal Rescue, with two senior black labs named Spike and Stella. Tyson’s Place helped the dogs after the man who owned them died of cancer at age 44.

Article content gathered from TODAY Pets & Animals
‘A sense of peace’: Terminally ill woman finds help for pets in her final days


Shelley Wittaniemi, MBA
Senior Accountant with Fiscal Services
(for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health)

Shelley served as the President of the Public Health Administrators Forum (PHAF) of the Michigan Association of Local Public Health (MALPH), during 2015/2106.

“This was a challenging and rewarding experience!
A variety of topics were covered in the meetings with people passionate about their work; creating an energetic atmosphere!”

Shelley’s duties included:

  1. Monitoring and offering guidance to MALPH concerning technical issues and developments related to fiscal development, planning, accountability, and policy development in public health.
  1. Monitoring legislative developments and offering guidance to MALPH in matters related to the public health issues identified above.
  1. Addressing such issues and carrying out such duties as may be assigned by the MALPH President or the Board of Directors of MALPH.
  1. Improving the professional education, training and growth of forum members and other public health professionals as it relates to the PHAF sphere of competence.

Step It Up! Fall Walking Challenge

Lace up your walking shoes & get ready for a free 7-week walking challenge.

This fall, participants will “virtually walk” 225 miles along the North Country Trail in the Upper Peninsula. The challenge begins on Monday, September 19.

This program is designed to help the community stay active as the weather cools. Participants of all fitness levels are invited to join and track their activity. Those who report their weekly steps and activity will be entered to win a Fit Bit fitness tracker; one will be awarded each week of the challenge.

Optional group walks will be offered for those interested in checking out Ottawa County Parks and enjoying the fall color. Each walk will be led by a naturalist guide.

New for the fall challenge

Participants will be able to track their individual progress online, including their cumulative steps taken. The Ottawa County GIS Department designed a map for those walking to see how far they’ve made it along the virtual trail.

“We think participants will really enjoy this added feature,” said Parks spokesperson Jessica VanGinhoven. “When you login to track your steps, you’ll be able to see the weekly goal markers and also track your individual progress. It was great to team up with GIS to create a more interactive component.”

Registration is now open – register today!


Registration closes September 15.

Group Walk Schedule

Week 1: Tuesday, September 20:  Hemlock Crossing, 6-7 PM

Week 2: Thursday, September 29: Hemlock Crossing, 10-11 AM

Thursday, September 29: Paw Paw Park (East), 6-7 PM

Week 3: Saturday, October 8: Hemlock Crossing, 4-5 PM

Week 4: Tuesday, October 11: Grand Ravines North, 6-7 PM

Week 5: Thursday, October 20: Grand Ravines North, 6-7 PM

Week 6: Saturday, October 29: Rosy Mound Natural Area, 10-11 AM

Week 7: Thursday, November 3: Hemlock Crossing, 5:30-7 PM. This final walk will be followed by a family-friendly party at the Nature Education Center!

Ottawa County environmental health specialist recognized nationally for outstanding contributions

Jessica Voglewede received a Certificate of Merit from the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), thereby nationally recognizing her for outstanding contributions to the environmental health profession.

Jessica began her environmental health career at Ottawa County in 2013, and currently works as an Environmental Health Specialist on the Food Safety Team. She has demonstrated a strong ability to meld technical expertise and strong communication skills to set high standards for Ottawa County food establishments and communicate those standards to operators.

Technical expertise is vital for correctly interpreting the Food Code during an inspection and the ability to communicate the information to operators. While most inspectors pass the State of Michigan standardization review, it is the rare few that receive 100% from Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development during the field evaluation. Jessica is one of those few. During her first field evaluation, she received 100%- properly demonstrating 54 of 54 competencies.

Jessica’s ability to communicate as an ally rather than an adversary has proven to motivate operators to want to meet the standards. This is highlighted by the turnaround of establishments in her area that had demonstrated numerous issues and risks to food safety. Jessica was able to document these issues, communicate corrections needed, and hold the establishment accountable through various enforcement tools. This was all accomplished while providing a high level of customer service. Since the creation of the Ottawa County Customer Service Award in late 2014, Jessica has received 18 online nominations. The following are just a sampling of some of the feedback received.

“Jessica has consistently made a point of not only inspecting our stores but connecting with our employees. She makes it very clear that she is on our team, and wants us to be as successful as possible in all avenues, including serving safe products, and conducting best practices with regard to handling food.”

“Jessica Voglewede came into my restaurant for our routine inspection and I was the manager on duty at the time. I am personally new to the management team and all other inspections I have witnessed from afar, but really did not understand the full process of what they were looking at or checking on. Despite my inexperience with the walk through, she made sure I understood exactly what we were looking for, and why it was important to keep up what we were doing. As I had questions arise, she would stop what she was doing to explain everything, and even helped to point it out in the health code book so that I could further educate my staff on the importance of the task and that they were doing a fantastic job. Her service was above and beyond what I would have expected and I feel as if any questions or concerns arose during the year, I would be able to contact her without feeling the pressure as I would have expected prior to this experience.”

About the NEHA Certificate of Merit: Each State Environmental Health Association Affiliate may nominate one of its members and/or a team to receive a Certificate of Merit from the National Environmental Health Association, thereby nationally recognizing one of their own for outstanding contributions to the environmental health profession. Each affiliate may only nominate a single individual for this recognition. In 2016, the Michigan Environmental Health Association chose Jessica Voglewede as their nominee. Jessica was one of only 11 individuals nationwide to receive this recognition.

“Nasal spray” flu vaccine NOT recommended during 2016-2017 flu season

On Wednesday, June 22, 2016, CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted in favor of an interim recommendation that live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), also known as the “nasal spray” flu vaccine, should not be used during the 2016-2017 flu season. The ACIP vote follows data showing poor or relatively lower effectiveness of LAIV from 2013 through 2016.

The change in the ACIP recommendation is an example of using new available data to ensure public health actions are most beneficial. ACIP continues to recommend annual flu vaccination, with either the inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV) or recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV) for everyone 6 months and older.

Influenza is a serious disease that causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands or tens of thousands of deaths each year. While the protection offered by flu vaccines can vary, the flu shot’s overall vaccine effectiveness estimate of 49 percent suggests that millions of people were protected against flu last season.

Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu illness, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. 

CDC conducts vaccine effectiveness studies each season to estimate flu vaccine effectiveness. How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season and can be affected by a number of factors, including characteristics of the person being vaccinated, the similarity between vaccine viruses and circulating viruses, and even which vaccine is used. Read more of the CDC’s Media Statement.

Why Flu Vaccination Matters – Personal Flu Stories

What is Influenza (also called Flu)?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

Preventing Flu

  • Get a flu vaccination each year.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Stay away from people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes.
  • Keep frequently touched common surfaces clean.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

How Flu Spreads

Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

Signs and Symptoms of Flu

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (very tired)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Complications of Flu

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

For more information about flu, visit or

To prevent diseases and their spread, find out what other vaccines  you may need at or call (616)396-5266.

Traveling? Contact us to find out which vaccines you may need  and other trip specific information.

Find vaccines near you

What to do if you find a bat in your home

Bats play an important role in our ecosystem.
However, they are also associated with diseases deadly to humans.

Bats eat insects, including some that can cause damage to farms and crops. They pollinate plants and they scatter seed. Studies of bats have contributed to medical advances, including the development of navigational aids for the blind. When people think about bats, they often imagine things that are not true. Bats are not blind – are not rodents – are not birds – and will not suck your blood.


Take Caution When Bats Are Near.
Be safe – Never handle a bat!

Because bats are mammals, they can develop rabies, but most do not have the rabies disease. You can’t tell if a bat has rabies just by looking at it. Rabies can be confirmed only by having the animal tested in a laboratory.

Diseases Spread by Bats

Several highly fatal diseases have been linked to bats. Rabies is the most well-known disease associated with bats. Along with animals such as dogs, foxes, raccoons, and skunks, bats are one of the primary animals that transmit rabies. Rabies attacks the brain and spinal cord. An exposure to rabies most commonly occurs when a person is bitten by a rabid animal. It can also be transmitted when the saliva from a rabid animal comes in contact with a person’s mucous membranes (such as in the mouth, eyes, or nose), or a fresh wound. When a person is exposed to rabies, timely administration of a vaccine known as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can prevent infection. Once a person becomes infected and symptoms begin to occur, rabies is almost always fatal.

Safely Capture Bats

If a bat is present in your home, contact an animal control professional for assistance. It may be important to capture the bat for rabies testing, especially if a potential bite or exposure has occurred. Sometimes, professional help may be unavailable. In such cases, use precautions to capture the bat safely.

To begin, you will need:

  • leather work gloves (put them on)
  • small box or coffee can
  • piece of cardboard
  • tape

The steps you should take to capture the bat are:

  • When the bat lands, approach it slowly, while wearing the gloves, and place the box or coffee can over it.
  • Slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.
  • Tape the cardboard to the container securely, and punch small holes in the cardboard, allowing the bat to breathe.

If no potential exposure has occurred, the bat can be safely released outside. If a bite or exposure to saliva has occurred (into a person’s mucous membranes such as in the mouth, eyes or nose, or a fresh wound), contact the health department or animal control authority to make arrangements for rabies testing.

 Treatment after a Potential Exposure

If you are bitten or saliva from a bat gets into your eyes, nose, mouth, or wounds; wash the affected area thoroughly and get medical attention immediately. Bats have small teeth that may leave marks not easily seen (see picture). Although many people know if they have been bitten by a bat, there are certain circumstances when a person might not be aware or able to tell if a bite has occurred.


For example:

  • If a person awakes to find a bat in the room.
  • If you find a bat in a room with an unattended child.

If the above occurs, get immediate medical attention. In all circumstances, contact your local health department for assistance with medical advice and testing bats for rabies. When it cannot be ruled out that the bat is free from rabies and an exposure has occurred, PEP may need to be considered.

Take Steps to Keep Bats Out of Your Home

Some bats live in buildings and may continue to do so with little risk to inhabitants if they are unable to access living areas and the potential for contact with people is low. However, bats should always be prevented from entering rooms of your home. Bat proofing your home can prevent them from using it as a roosting site. For best results, contact an animal control or wildlife conservation agency and ask for assistance.

If you choose to do the bat-proofing yourself, here are some suggestions:

  • Carefully examine your home for holes that might allow bats entry into your living quarters.
  • Any openings larger than a quarter-inch by a half-inch should be caulked.
  • Use window screens, chimney caps, and draft-guards beneath doors to attics.
  • Fill electrical and plumbing holes with stainless steel wool or caulking.
  • Ensure all doors to the outside close tightly.

Most bats leave in the fall or winter to hibernate, so these are the best times to bat-proof your home. During summer, many young bats are unable to fly. If you exclude adult bats during this time, the young may be trapped inside and die or make their way into living quarters. If possible, avoid exclusion from May through August.

Common Entry Points

  • down chimney
  • opening around chimney
  • through vents
  • through open unscreened windows
  • under or through open doors
  • under siding
  • under eaves
  • under loose shingles

For questions about rabies testing for bats or other information, please call 616-393-5645 or email

Youth Assessment Survey sub-group reports available online: Grade – Gender – Ethnicity

Now available online at

The sub-group reports are an addendum to the 2015 Ottawa County Youth Assessment Survey (YAS) featuring the responses of youth in grades 8, 10 and 12 alone; males or females alone; and White, Hispanic or Other Ethnicity alone. Since the YAS has been administered every odd year since 2005, there are now six survey years of data to more closely examine the current status and historical trends in both risky and beneficial behavior among youth in Ottawa County.

2015 YAS cover

2015 YAS Full Report 

Grades 8, 10 and 12 Sub-group Report Highlights:

  • 8th and 10th graders are bullied more often than 12th graders.
  • As the grade level goes up, so does the prevalence of drug use.
  • 8th graders have the highest proportion of students exercising to lose weight.
  • 8th graders also tend to have the most positive view of school.
  • 8th and 12th graders both have negative trends in regards to depression and suicidal behaviors.
  • Perceptions of marijuana use are trending negatively for all grade levels.
  • Perceptions of other drug use are trending negatively for 12th graders.
  • 12th graders tend to have their nutritional behaviors trending negatively.

Read More: Grade 8 – Grade 10 – Grade 12

Gender Sub-group Report Highlights:

  • Among males who reported being in a relationship in the past year, all five questions are trending in the negative direction (as recipients of unhealthy behaviors in a relationship).
  • Females have a significantly higher proportion of depression and suicide behaviors when compared to males, and all of these behaviors are trending in the negative direction.
  • Perceptions about marijuana and most other drug use is trending in the negative direction for females.
  • Females are trending negatively in their use of heroin and hallucinogens, while males are trending positively.
  • Females are trending down in healthy weight and up in obesity, in contrast males are trending up in healthy weight and down in obesity.
  • Higher proportions of males have bad nutrition when compared to females.
  • Higher proportions of females report being bullied when compared to males.

Read More: Male – Female

Ethnicity Sub-group Report Highlights:

  • White students have lower depression and suicidal behavior proportions when compared to both Hispanic and Other students.
  • Hispanic students are trending negatively in 3 of the 4 depression and suicide behaviors.
  • White students tend to have the lowest proportion of drug and alcohol abuse.  In comparison, Hispanic students tend to have the highest proportion in these areas.
  • Hispanic and Other students tend to describe their neighborhood more negatively than White students.
  • Hispanic students have significantly less students in the healthy weight category and significantly more students in the overweight and obese categories, when compared to White and Other students.
  • White students tend to have a higher proportion involved in community activities when compared to Hispanic and Other students.

Read More: White – Hispanic – Other

For more information about Ottawa County health data and reports, please visit or contact Marcia Mansaray, OCDPH epidemiologist at