Last week marked Environmental Public Health Week 2021, which recognizes the tireless work of Public Health Inspectors/Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) in keeping our communities safe. While their work has been in the spotlight throughout the pandemic, beyond this, their responsibilities impact some of the most important aspects of our everyday lives.
Richard Taki, VCH's Executive Director of Health Protection with VCH, walked us through the work of his team and the role of Environmental Health in protecting public health.
Environmental Health is located under the Office of the Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Patricia Daly and is the largest of three programs within Health Protection. The other programs being Community Care Facilities Licensing and Tobacco Control. Our primary responsibility is to enforce public health legislation.
We have a diverse team of dedicated and hard working health professionals who come to work ready to meet the challenges of each new day. They play a prominent role in our communities working with businesses, local government, and a multitude of external agencies. We also see ourselves as the “Jack of all trades" within public health. The ability of our team members to respond to requests outside our regular roles and to adapt to new situations makes them a valuable asset to public health.
Those who work in environmental health are some of the most resourceful and versatile professionals in our healthcare system. This is evident by the substantial and broad support they have offered public health since the start of the pandemic.
Some of our routine activities were suspended and our team was redirected to focus on COVID-19 priority work such as COVID-19 case and contract tracing and the enforcement of PHO Orders. VCH EHOs also played a significant role in the development of provincial resources for the safe operation of businesses.
EHO versatility was relied upon to lead and coordinate the essential worker vaccination campaigns and to conduct infection control assessments at our community vaccination clinics. All of these activities continue to play a critical role in public health's robust response to the pandemic and to ensure the public remains safe and have been acknowledged publicly by the Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Chief Medical Health Officer of VCH, Dr. Patricia Daly.
Most people relate environmental health with food inspections and safe drinking water. What the majority of the population does not know is that the work of EHOs is much more than that. Our team is responsible for protecting the health of the public and our reach spans across food safety, drinking/recreation water quality, enteric/zoonotic communicable disease control, personal service establishments, solid/liquid waste, vector control, indoor/outdoor air pollution, emergency preparedness/response and much more.
Our regulatory enforcement work will continue to be a mainstay of our service; however, we see climate change issues becoming a bigger focus in our work in the community. Extreme heat events, poor air quality, rising sea level/floods, and wildfires, impact our communities but also intersect with all of our environmental health programs.