WHEELING – Howard Gamble has been the face of the fight against COVID-19 in the Wheeling area since the pandemic began.
His daily task as administrator of the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department has been to give the latest guidance regarding the virus, along with updating the public and media about how many people have died, survived and been infected by it.
But for Gamble, the pandemic was just one more responsibility the health department had to take on as it tended to its other important duties.
He is proud of the job his department has done during this long haul.
“Our full- and part-time staff, volunteers and partners have done an outstanding job in meeting the needs of the community. From education to testing to disease management to vaccinations we have done a very good job in providing services to the public,” he said.
“The health department plays an important role in the community and can often be both a lighting rod and a provider of necessary services. This pandemic will pass, and we will move on to the next issue, service or event.”
Gamble noted many of the services the department provides are often overlooked or people just don’t know about them.
“Food service inspections, septic system permitting, rabies management, and inspecting and permitting pools touches the lives of everyone in our community, but we don’t see them happening,” he said. “Vaccinations for children, adults, professionals and international travelers are often specific and are seen as an inconvenient necessity.
“Prevention actions like no smoking, or other rulemaking actions, can be for some in our community an overreach of government; however, it is an action to prevent disease or protect and promote a healthier community.”
Gamble was born and raised in Delaware and moved to West Virginia while in high school. He became a Wheeling resident in 1994 and continues to reside in the city with his wife and two sons.
He received his undergraduate degree from West Virginia Wesleyan College, a graduate degree in health care administration from West Virginia University and holds a masters degree in public health from WVU School of Medicine.
His business philosophy is to “keep moving forward, but take time to enjoy the ride.” In life, Gamble believes in living healthy, but enjoying the sweet stuff, too.
“By all means, live healthy, exercise, eat your fruits and vegetables and look to the future, but enjoy the chocolate milkshake, the glazed donut, and spending time with the ones who make you do all of this,” he said.
In his spare time, Gamble creates stained glass art and also teaches a stained glass class at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling.
Gamble noted he enjoys taking care of the administrative side of public health.
“My first job after college graduation was in school health, working on a small program to improve health outcomes of students and staff. During this time I began to enjoy working on the administrative side of healthcare,” he said.
“I then took a position with the state health department working with local health departments and community health organizations in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. This was my first go-around in public health.
“Before taking the administrative position at the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department I spent eight years at Ohio Valley Medical Center/Ohio Valley Health Services and Education working and learning from some wonderful healthcare professionals. I have been involved in school health, hospital-based healthcare and public health since 1993. I enjoy the administrative side of healthcare, but have a tremendous amount of respect for the physicians, nurses and others.”
Gamble said the health department is important to people for a variety of reasons.
“For most of us, the health department is what is happening right now or what service they are seeking right now. This department has a long history of serving the citizens of Wheeling, Ohio County and the Ohio Valley,” he said.
“The first Board of Health was created in 1832 in Wheeling and has been a major player in healthcare ever since. Things that we overlook today were set into motion by public health years ago – regulating milk, chlorination of the water supply, providing vaccinations to control outbreaks and pandemics, and at time issues that caused some concern but are now assumed to be normal, such as no smoking rules or vaccinations to go to school.”
Concerning the future, Gamble said the health department always aims to address disease issues as they arise.
“A major goal is to continue services to Ohio County but look to improve our staff levels, response time and technology,” he said.