Who would have ever thought that a competitive backstroke swimmer would one day be the Cherokee County Health Department Administrator?

Betha Elliott has led county healthcare since 1993. She first went to work for the department as the Healthy Start Home Visitor. Elliott had a small child and could work part time with the position. She has been with the department ever since, going on her 23rd year.

Elliott grew up in Opolis, Kan. Her hometown was close enough to Pittsburg that she attended grade and high school there. She worked at the Pittsburg City Pool and the YMCA, where she swam competitively for the swim team.

Following high school, Elliott attended college at Kansas State University in Manhattan where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in family, child and human development with a major in community development.

“I’ve never been a registered nurse,” Elliott said. “I just have RNs that work for me.”

Elliott is charged with administering the women, infants and child program, not only for Cherokee County but Labette and Montgomery Counties too. She also is in charge of grant program compliance and supervises 16 county health department workers.

“My biggest challenge is offering competitive salaries to my RNs,” Elliott said. “They are very underpaid.”

Currently she is working with the county commissioners on salaries.

“My department has the money through our grant programs to pay our nurses up with other nurses in nearby hospitals and government facilities,” Elliott said. “The new commission pay level responsibility restructuring will help this area for me.”

Elliott’s greatest opportunities are keeping the cost of health care low for county residents.

“We are still offering lead testing for free and our flu shots are $15,” she said. “We are able to charge Medicare for many of our services.”

Obtaining grants and funding from outside sources are the principal ways Elliott is able to keep her departments charges low.

“We apply for all of the grants and funding we can,” Elliott said. “Our previous administrators did that too.”

Technology has greatly impacted the way the county health department is operated.

“The WIC program used to have ledger charts where we hand wrote everything,” Elliott said. “Now all of it is electronic with computer administration. We have cell phones instead of pagers and we can text as well as e-mail our communications.”

If Elliott could have chosen a different career, it would have been to work with pregnant teenagers.

“I always wanted to run a home for unwed teens,” she said. “Back in the 80s, teen pregnancy was looked down on more than it is today.”