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Placer County offices will be closed Monday, Jan. 15, in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday

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November 2017 issue


Hello HHS colleagues, 

I hope you all had a restful and joyful Thanksgiving holiday. 
Many of us have spent recent days reflecting on those things in our lives for which we are most grateful — family, friends, our homes, our health. I hope that you’ll also take a moment to pause and absorb the gratitude expressed by our clients for the work you do. 
I enjoyed reading this letter received by our Human Services team: 

HS letter


In the hustle, bustle and stress of our daily workflow it can be easy to forget that our programs — and not just the tangible services we provide, but the intangible personal interactions we have each day - do matter to those we serve and make a real difference in their lives. I hope you’ve felt that gratitude, and I am thankful for the opportunity we have to make an impact in this community.


It’s been a busy few months in HHS. Earlier in November, we presented our board with an update on efforts around homelessness, including an update from Dr. Robert Marbut whose 2015 report has guided much of our work on this issue.


Among some of the recent developments: We’ve been able to purchase two properties for Whole Person Care clients using funds from Sutter Health and contracting with AMI Housing to operate them. These will house up to 14 individuals, and altogether we’re looking at more than 40 units that we’ve secured this year. We also opened our medical respite facility in October, where individuals who aren’t sick enough for hospitalization but still too sick for the streets or regular shelter environments can go and recover. If you didn’t read the recent story in the Sacramento Bee, it’s a good look at our Whole Person Care program.


We’ve seen that these efforts and others — from our collaboration with law enforcement to our efforts with emergency shelters — are having an effect. While we have seen a slight increase in our homeless population, it is nowhere near the rates seen in nearby counties and across the state. And we have made great strides in reducing the numbers of chronically homeless and homeless veterans.


I also want to take a moment and thank everyone who volunteered to assist with the recent wine country fires. Several divisions stepped up and offered their assistance, with everything from mental health work to environmental cleanup, and I know that your efforts are deeply appreciated by our friends in Sonoma.


In this 'season of giving' I couldn’t be more proud of our department!





P.S. I hope you’ll stop by the CDRC on Dec. 7 for the annual winter celebration, hosted by Administrative Services and Environmental Health! These folks get pretty creative when decorating their workspaces … almost as creative as some of your Halloween costumes last month!

Photo break: Awards recognized at board meeting

Board HHS awards



We celebrated several recent awards received by HHS at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, including six National Association of Counties (NACo) awards. Two of those programs also made NACo's list of “100 Brilliant Ideas” from across the nation. Our Environmental Health division also received this year’s Excellence in Environmental Health Award from the California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health for its unique program.

Human Services: Employment Service recognition ceremony; veterans housing fair and VITA

Employment Services customers celebrated for finding jobs, purpose


Curtis Pierce is hopeful again. Hopeful, and hungry to learn.


After losing his job, unemployment had thrust him into a spiral of negativity. Then, he reached out to Placer County Employment Services. They paired him with a counselor and began offering support, ranging from resume and interview help to on-the-job experience.


Today, Pierce has a full-time position and is also attending American River College studying automation and mechatronics. And he has no intention to slow down anytime soon, with plans to move forward in the field of mechanical engineering after finishing his associate’s degree.


“It’s a hunger. I want to learn more. [This experience] just sparked something, where I’m addicted to learning now,” he said. “They lit the fuse, and I took off from there.”


Earlier this month, Placer County held its third annual recognition ceremony for 102 program participants who have successfully transitioned into employment this year, and a handful of local employers who have helped them on their journeys. Though it was a rainy night, about two dozen families were in attendance.


The event featured food, an inspirational keynote speaker and a raffle of donated prizes. Family members clapped and cheered as each participant received a certificate, and employers from companies such as Results Property Management and GAP Inc. shared how their businesses have benefitted by utilizing the WEX and Help to Hire programs in bringing on clients.


A significant component of Employment Services is the Work Experience Program, also known as WEX. WEX places CalWORKs recipients on paid and unpaid job assignments with public, private and nonprofit agencies at no cost to employers for up to a year. Pierce spent just a week filing paperwork through WEX before he was able to land a full-time job as a forklift operator.


“They gave me the push, the motivation,” he said. “It allowed me to get out and see that I have talent, I have potential and there were places that wanted me.”


For Rose McMurray, her WEX position blossomed into a fulfilling career. After starting out as a WEX intern for Child Advocates of Placer County, a nonprofit organization that supports at-risk children and families, she continued on as an AmeriCorps volunteer with the group before receiving a full-time position.


Now, she’s off welfare and living in an apartment in Auburn with her 7-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.


McMurray’s own life experience, having combatted addiction and homelessness, has been invaluable in helping her connect with Child Advocates’ clients, many of whom are parents in the process of trying to better themselves and reunify with their children.


“They trust me. They know I’ve been where they’re at,” McMurray said. “And it it gives them hope that if I can do it, so can they.”


“That drive is really what makes her probably the most valuable employee here,” said supervisor Jamie Nichols.


For both McMurray and Pierce, their work has brought new purpose and meaning.


“It’s changed my life tremendously, It’s given me an opportunity I never even thought I could fulfill,” McMurray said.


“You’ll get 1,000 ‘no’s’ when you’re looking for a job, but all you need is one ‘yes’ to change your life and your family’s life,” Pierce said. “And to actually feel worth something.”


View video testimonials from Employment Services customers:



View photos from the recognition ceremony:


Employment Services recognition 2017


Housing Authority working with Veterans Affairs to hold housing fair for homeless veterans


Placer County is seeking landlords, employers and community partners who can help us give back to our local heroes in need at a community housing fair Dec. 8.


There are dozens of homeless veterans right now in Placer County. The Placer County Housing Authority — in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Volunteers of America and Advocates for Mentally Ill Housing Inc. — will hold a community housing fair Dec. 8 at the Auburn Veterans Memorial Hall, 100 East Street in Auburn starting at 9 a.m. Homeless veterans will be able to connect with landlords, employers and other resources to help them on the path to independence. Learn more.


Volunteers sought for tax help program


Human Services is seeking volunteers for the VITA program, which offers free tax assistance to low-income individuals and families. Last year we helped hundreds of Placer County residents get more than $500,000 back in refunds. Learn more and sign up to volunteer today.

Children's System of Care: Betsy's Bench, Adoption Day, PCYC study and workshops

'Betsy's Bench': Children’s System of Care employee memorialized by colleagues



Betsy Jones’ desk was situated near the entrance of the intake room in Children’s System of Care offices in Rocklin. There, she was at the center of the action, checking in on colleagues who happened to walk by and asking for updates about their kids and families.


Her reach, however, extended far beyond the walls of that office. After she passed away in June following a battle with cancer, coworkers received a letter of condolence from the Roseville Police Department. The officers had never met Betsy in person, but had spoken with her countless times as she worked with them to navigate difficult child welfare cases.


“She was just a voice on the phone, but that letter really showed her impact,” coworker Kathleen Taylor said. “She had a lot of fans.”


Betsy spent more than three years at Placer County, first at the former children’s emergency shelter and later as an intake counselor in Rocklin, fielding calls from families, schools, hospitals, law enforcement and others with patience and understanding to ensure the safety of at-risk children.


“This is a tough job. Our staff encounter some of the most awful stories and reports,” said supervisor Scott Myers. “They're able to tolerate that and not get caught up in how they feel. Betsy exemplified the devotion of doing the best for children and families in Placer County. She was an absolute ray of light.”


“Betsy could make anyone she knew smile and you could always count on her to make you laugh,” said co-worker Shellie Hall. “She was always willing to help with whatever she could and she enjoyed being able to help others.”


The office where five intake counselors field calls is small, and staff are tight knit. They share ups and downs: Betsy had shared memories and handmade trinkets from her late sister, and rejoiced with co-workers at the birth of her granddaughter.


When she began experiencing health issues it was no different. In January, Betsy shared the news of her cancer diagnosis.


“She got a lot of strength in coming to work. They'd tell her to take time off, but she loved her job,” said Taylor.


Her team rallied around her, holding parties and making “I Stand Up For Betsy” shirts and bracelets emblazoned with her favorite saying: “Applying Love.”


Then, the team decided to install a bench at their Rocklin workplace. After all, benches are for moments of quiet reflection — a perfect tribute to the woman who loved yoga and meditation. Supervisor Renee Verdugo spearheaded fundraisers and lobbied for permission to install the bench.


When Betsy’s illness progressed to the point where she was no longer able to come to work, Taylor sent her updates via text. On the first day of June, she wrote “We are all missing you terribly and thinking of you constantly … We just got approval .. to place our Betsy Bench here at work.” Betsy’s husband replied on her behalf that “it will continue on and on.”


A few days later, Betsy passed away. She was 59.


Her funeral was a packed house and hundreds of Betsy’s loved ones danced, meditated and watched a slideshow of her life.

In September, Betsy’s bench was assembled and installed at the Rocklin office. The entire Children’s System of Care team gathered for its dedication.


Taylor can see the bench out of her office window. It is a bittersweet reminder.


“Betsy had a presence here that you could feel was missing,” she said. “I like to see how many people sit down. It’s good; people stop and take a break there.”


On their wall hangs a collection of the “Applying Love” bracelets, modeled in the shape of a heart. It’s a motto that co-workers say they try to embrace each day in their work and in their lives.


“I think her legacy is about moving forward with positive intent,” said co-worker Wendy Pipkins. “Checking in with people, and putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes.”


Team with bench

Placer County kids join seven ‘forever families’ on Adoption Day
Nov. 18 was National Adoption Day. Here in Placer County, we had seven families finalize their adoptions at a special celebration at the historic courthouse in Auburn! Children celebrated with face painting, arts and crafts, live music and stuffed animals — plus a few favorite movie characters made an appearance. Check out some photos on our Facebook page. Our county still has a great need for foster and adoptive families.


Youth commission notes distracted driving as part of statewide survey

The Placer County Youth Commission participated in a statewide, student-led survey of distracted driving, organized and funded by the California Friday Night Live Partnership. The annual Roadwatch survey aims to improve traffic safety and curtail distracted driving and the threat it poses to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Drivers can be distracted by phones, passengers, pets, food and more. Read more.


Workshops for parents, children on human trafficking see success

In October, CSOC worked in collaboration with the Placer County Office of Education and local nonprofit Stand Up Placer to host a series of workshops around human trafficking aimed at youth, parents, educators and more. The workshops were extremely popular — check out this story from CBS13 to get a glimpse!

Administrative Services: People's Choice Awards

From helpfulness to humor, People’s Choice awards highlight superstars


Administrative Services held its third annual People’s Choice awards this October, recognizing the best and brightest employees as chosen by their peers.


Ten staff members received framed awards, designed by a committee of their peers, surrounded by balloons and cheers from their coworkers.


“This is a great opportunity for all of us to acknowledge the people around us, who day in and day out, help brighten our work environment with their positive attitudes,” said division director Darlene King. “This team has so many unique strengths that complement one another.”


The committee chose the categories - which are different every year - and the entire division submitted their nominations.  


People's Choice

The winners pictured, and their award categories, are as follows:

Back row (left to right): Stan Hapak (Most Likely to Crack the Code), Tami Burns (Most Likely to Lend a Hand), Erica Collins (Most Likely to be a Standup Comedian), Kristal Baumbach (Most Likely to Conquer the World), and Layne Kuhn (Most Likely to Work on a Bomb Squad).

Front row (left to right): Alexis Madera (Most Likely to Share Their Sandbox), Suzanne Davirro (Most Likely to Go the Distance), Karen Lightfoot-Smith (Most Likely to BeDazzle), and Megan Shepard (Most Likely to be a Motivational Speaker)

Not pictured: Marilyn Pajari (Most Likely to Keep Their Ducks in a Row)

Click here to view a few more photos from this fun event

Environmental Health: Water workshop and holiday turkey tips

Water Workshop brings environmental health professionals from across the state to Placer


Placer County hosted a water workshop for environmental health professionals, inviting participants from across the state for four days of training in Squaw Valley this October. More than 100 people, including both water operators and regulators, were in attendance for sessions including cross connections, backflow prevention and more — a variety of techniques to ensure safe drinking water for the public.


The program was funded by the California Department of Public Health, which in 2014 distributed money to environmental health departments across California intended to boost compliance. Many counties spent their funds locally and focused on meeting the state requirements. Since Placer was already fully in compliance, leaders were able to get creative with the extra money.  


“We thought big. With this funding we chose to bring a unique opportunity to professionals not just from Placer County but the entire state,” said environmental health director Wesley Nicks. “The goals was to connect water regulators and operators together to learn from each other.”


Placer contracted with national experts from the American Water Works Association to design the training.

“It was one of the best conferences I’ve been to, because of the collaborative aspect of it,” said Floyd Barton, who operates a company in Bishop. He’d attended operator conferences before, but never a workshop bringing operators and regulators together.

“You get both sides of the picture,” he said.

“Being able to have everyone in the same room and share how regulators can help the industry, and how can the industry work with the regulators… we’re all here for the same cause,” said Placer County environmental health specialist Danielle Pohlman.

On the last day of the conference, attendees rode the gondola up for a tour of the Squaw Valley Upper Mountain Water System, which produces an average of 20,000 gallons of water a day during the busy ski season.

“We’re thrilled to be able to show folks real-world application,” said Squaw chief engineer Mike Martin. 



Food safety: Turkey tips


Environmental Health staff created this short video to promote food safety this holiday season. If you’ll be cooking a turkey, take a look at their tips to help avoid foodborne illness!

Public Health: Miles of Smiles program expands; employee shout out

Miles of Smiles program to expand to more classrooms


One by one, kindergartners at George Cirby Elementary School approached Dr. Kayla Nguyen and opened their mouths as she peered in with magnifier glasses and a tongue depressor, searching for signs of cavities, abscesses or infection.


“Remember to brush your teeth. Have your parents help you,” she’d remind each one as they hopped off the chair and went back to their teacher and classmates a few feet away. 

Miles of Smiles is a volunteer-run program providing screenings and referrals for students in Roseville. Nguyen visits classrooms to screen students in kindergarten, second and fifth grades and refers those with urgent needs to local dental providers. Second and fifth graders also receive dental sealants.

The Rotary Club of Roseville started the program in 2000 in two elementary schools. Miles of Smiles now reaches six schools and has provided more than 9,200 sealants in its nearly two decades of existence. With the help of a $10,000 infusion from Placer County, approved by county the Board of Supervisors in September, it will further expand to two middle schools in the coming year, reaching at least 200 more children each year. 

“We have seen a dramatic improvement in the dental health of the kids in second and fifth grades, and we look forward to reaching older children as well,” said Ruth Burgess, a Rotary member who founded the program. 

The middle school students will be screened and some will receive dental sealants, which protect tooth enamel and prevent decay. Children with poor oral health often experience pain, chewing difficulty, malnutrition and low self-esteem.

As Miles of Smiles expands to reach older children, Placer County’s Oral Health Program is simultaneously targeting children 5 and under, before they reach school age. More than 40 percent of children across the state have already experienced dental decay by the time they enter kindergarten. 

“Together with community partners like Rotary we’re trying to support and keep kids healthy from birth all the way into adulthood,” said county Public Health Officer Dr. Rob Oldham. 

Nguyen, the Rotary volunteer who conducts the Miles of Smiles screenings, is a dentist with A+ Dental Care who said she loves working with students. 

“I just think it’s a great service for our community. There’s a definite need,” she said. “What keeps me coming back is I just see more and more kids with need.”

When one boy refused to get a screening, Burgess and Nguyen got down on their knees on the floor next to him, gently reassuring him and coaxing him to open his mouth. 

“See, that was alright. Great job!” Nguyen said when she was done.

He nodded, and turned back to his classmates. 

View more photos:

Miles of Smiles


Looking for more tips on oral health? 

Dr. Rob Oldham's November column in the Auburn Jounal is chock full of tips for you and your family. 

Employee shout out


Kudos to Mary Debra Gutierrez in Public Health, who recently received her doctorate degree in physical therapy.  She completed 15 months of the post-professional online program through A.T. Still University in Arizona. Debbie works for California Children's Services at the Newcastle Medical Therapy Unit, which provides occupational and physical therapy to children from birth to 21 years of age with CCS-eligible neurological and/or orthopedic conditions.


Debbie also took the certification exam to become a Pediatric Clinical Specialist in 2013.  She and her husband own and edit a regional resource magazine, the Parents Resource Guide.


Know a colleague who should be congratulated for their professional or personal accomplishment? Send your "shout-out" to


Adult System of Care: Fire responders share experience; PREP success


Mental health workers assist staff, students at Sonoma schools impacted by fire


When a call for help came as fire ravaged through Sonoma County, Placer County was quick to respond.


Among the several departments and divisions that volunteered their services following mutual aid requests were four behavioral health workers with the county's Health and Human Services department — Scott Genschmer, Dave Sherlock, Kyle Sterry and Bill Thomas.


The four responders were assigned to several Santa Rosa schools, assisting victims recovering from the Tubbs fire. At one, more than 100 students and five teachers had been displaced by the fire, many from the devastated Coffey Park neighborhood. In the midst of that devastation, experienced mental health professionals were crucial.


"[Victims] are trying to put one foot in front of the other. Crisis counseling is incredibly important. It starts the healing process early on," Genschmer said. "If you experience trauma and go without mental health support, it can get worse over time."


The disaster hit close to home for Genschmer, whose mother was evacuated from Calistoga for a week and came to Roseville. Her neighborhood, thankfully, was spared.


The four responders assisted both students and staff as they transitioned back to school, some after an absence of more than three weeks.


“Most children just wanted to return to familiar faces, places, routines and a schedule that included future expectations,” said Sherlock.


Sherlock and his coworkers helped organize meetings where students were encouraged to share their stories in a group setting. Their messages of grief, loss, fear and beyond were powerful, he said. 

“I was affected by this experience on a personal and professional level.”

In the weeks and months ahead, as residents settle into a new normal, behavioral health staff say there will be continued challenges.

“I imagine [the holidays] will be very difficult as people realize that many of the things that had once been part of their holiday celebrations are now gone forever. They will need to learn how to incorporate this experience into their lives,” Thomas said. 

“Given what I witnessed in their love for each other, they will endure and thrive.”

The experience should serve the four Placer employees well in future emergencies, elsewhere or closer to home.

“It was a fantastic experience and I am grateful I was able to go and help,” Sterry said.

Children’s System of Care staff also volunteered but were unable to travel to Santa Rosa due to lodging constraints. Environmental Health staff are still deployed as part of the ongoing debris cleanup process. 

"This could easily happen in Placer County," Genschmer said. "It's our responsibility to help others in need. When the call comes, we need to raise our hands."



Re-entry program takes aim at revolving jail door


Chris Hudak knew he wanted to change, but didn’t know where to start. He found answers with the Placer Re-Entry Program. 


Hudak is one of 162 people who have graduated from the PREP. The program provides services and accountability to criminal offenders who are at medium to high risk of reoffending, serving those who are currently in custody as well as parolees and probationers. Read more.

Animal Services: Dispatch from the Open House


A first-person view of the Animal Services open house


Check out photos of the open house here!

Walking in the door, my attention was immediately drawn to a huge glass enclosure across the lobby at the end of the counter where cats and kittens were “attacking” feather toys deployed by volunteers. I was thoroughly entertained watching these adorable creatures play, purr and pounce.


“The cat viewing area was designed to draw you in,” said Wesley Nicks, Director of Environmental Health and Animal Services at Placer County. “It completely captivates visitors and puts everyone in a good mood watching cats and kittens playing.”


These are just a few of my experiences during my visit to the Placer County Animal Services open house on Saturday, Sept. 23. This event attracted more than 1,000 visitors to the new, state-of-the-art animal services center at 11232 B Ave in Auburn.


I enjoyed a busy afternoon that included snacking on some yummy treats from food vendors outside while exploring the center; meeting adoptable pets; having a free pet identification tag engraved for my dog and taking a tour of Gold Country Wildlife Rescue across the street.


County staff and volunteers led tours of the new center, which offered a behind-the-scenes look at shelter operations. It was during one of these tours where I discovered that the dogs and cats are housed in two separate wings of the building. I also observed the dogs and cats contently lounging around, each on their own bed up off the floor in clean kennels. Additionally, I saw them moving freely between inside and outside spaces.


“Isolating the dogs and cats in separate areas and having the dog kennels grouped into separate rooms away from the public hallways was done by design to allow the animals to relax,” said Animal Services Manager Katie Ingram. “It’s stressful enough for the animals to be surrounded by so many other pets and people, so keeping the noise down helps to keep anxiety levels lower. We want an animal’s time spent at the shelter to be as relaxing as possible.”


After the shelter tour, I made my way outside and was greeted by pleasant fall weather while I explored about 20 booths in the dog play yards. Participating organizations included groups that work as partners with the shelter like Kitten Central and FieldHaven, pet rescue groups, local shelters and pet-related vendors.


I enjoyed talking to a couple of friendly animal control officers, and I even got to take a sneak peek inside their trucks. They explained to me, along with others gathered around them, including many children that their job of keeping animals and people safe leads to encounters with all different kinds of animals other than the typical cats and dogs. They often help deer, skunks, horses and cows get out of dangerous situations like a horse wandering down a road outside of its corral. “We like spending time with community members, especially kids, to explain how we spend our days keeping animals safe,” said Animal Control Officer Supervisor Anna Piland.


After checking out the cool gadgets in the animal control officers’ trucks, I went back inside to a meeting room at the front of the building, named the “Ambassador Room,” where I watched videos about cutting-edge shelter programs including feral cat and kitten life-saving programs, dog play groups and the shelter medical program.


As I was leaving, I caught up with Animal Services Manager Katie Ingram and asked her how many pets had been adopted during the open house. “It was a very successful event, as 22 pets were adopted,” she said. “Which is more than three times the average for a typical Saturday!” I was glad to learn so many pets found new homes in one day.


If you’re looking for a new “furever friend,” or want to volunteer to walk dogs on your lunch hour or encourage a child to read to a cat, I recommend a visit to Placer County Animal Services! The center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information on adoptable pets, look for the Pet of the Week announcement on My Placer or visit Placer County Animal Services online at You can also find them at or call 530-886-5500.

Past Issues

November 2017

September 2017

July 2017

May 2017

March 2017