By Erin O'Connor
WEST SPRINGFIELD West Springfield native, Mark McKinnon, spoke to The Reminder on Nov. 16 about his position as a lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps.
"If you look at my adult life I have done something good for the population," McKinnon said. "I have served the United States as a marine and as a paramedic. Public service is what I do well, what better way to serve."
LT McKinnon is currently stationed in the Washington D.C. Bureau of the Department of Health. His department oversees everything and everyone to keep a watch for any harmful diseases or injuries, ensure safe and effective drugs and medical devices, deliver health services to Federal beneficiaries and furnish health expertise in times of war or other national or international emergencies.
McKinnon's department tracks these items and gathers information from and relays information to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the recent ecoli virus and spinach crisis McKinnon's Department passed out the okay that spinach is safe to eat again.
A native of West Springfield McKinnon attended Mittineague Elementary School and West Springfield High School and left the city at age 17 to join the Marine Corps in 83'. He currently has family living on Healy Street.
"There is always going to be some type of disease out there that the public are going to be worried about," he said. "In 1918 there was Influenza. I have two daughters from China and at that time there was SARS and there were certain conditions that we followed. The best thing is to visit the CDC web site to get the most current information and facts."
The CDC web site can be found at www.cdc.gov.
After McKinnon finished his term with the Marines he attended college in North Carolina to become a paramedic.
"During my service I spent time in Hawaii, Maryland, North Carolina and Texas," he said.
After receiving his Bachelor's Degree from George Washington University McKinnon began working in the public health field.
"My first detail when in the public health service field was in the Federal Prison in Oxford Wisconsin. Here we worked with all levels of medical care for the inmate population," he said.
McKinnon said that he worked with inmates that were anywhere from 18 years and older and at one point during his service Oxford housed the oldest inmate in the system.
One of the programs that the Department of Health works with is "Ready Responders". This program deploys units to areas of the country where there is little to no health insurance in order to offer health services to those that are in need.
McKinnon said that work in this area has been heavily concentrated at Indian Reservations and in areas of Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.
"On Indian reservations many [residents] have a hard life and the suicide rates are high that is why we are there offering mental health officers, social workers and psychologists," he said.
McKinnon said that currently the Department of Health is getting over Hurricane season.
"We were worried when Ernesto came through but it did not turn out to be so bad," he said.
When McKinnon is not busy working at a 24-hour operation center in D.C. and being the "eyes and ears" for the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, he enjoys the simple things like cooking and running marathons.