Welcome to the official blog for the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) 2008 Annual Educational Conference (AEC) & Exhibition. While our 2008 conference is over, we encourage you to read through these blog posts and comments and continue to share your thoughts and experiences. In particular, be sure to check out the “Who are we and who do we want to be?” discussion and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Who are we and what do we want to be?

Our profession is facing a future filled with uncertainty, opportunity and threats. Somewhere within this mix lies our destiny. What can we do to shape our destiny before other interests and/or events shape it for us? To help us to understand what NEHA needs to be saying to help us all reach the destiny we seek, NEHA is now engaging the profession in an unprecedented dialogue about our future. We invite you to join this discussion and to offer your thoughts and viewpoints for consideration. Please read this background information and respond to the following questions by posting a comment to this blog:
  • What are the unintended consequences (especially for local health departments) if a new federal Food Protection Agency is created? What should NEHA be saying to policy makers about this proposal? (Issue 1 – Food Agency)
  • What should environmental health look like after successful health care reform is instituted? (You can talk about any aspect of this fascinating issue, e.g., which institutions should environmental health should be practiced in, what funding mechanisms should be used for EH, what should the relationship between environmental health and the personal health care system look like, etc.) (Issue 2 – Health Care Reform)
  • How should accreditation evolve as a policy consideration for local environmental health programs? (Issue 3 – Accreditation)

To help others to follow your points, we ask only one courtesy. As you present your viewpoints, please identify which question below you are responding to by beginning your response with the code term for the question of interest to you.

Thank you!


Yersinia_pestis said...

Question: What are the unintended consequences (especially for local health departments) if a new federal Food Protection Agency is created? What should NEHA be saying to policy makers about this proposal?

Response: A Federal Food Protection Agency may make sense depending on its actual "Mission", what its responsibilities are, how well the agency is staffed, their enforcement authiority and capabilities, how seriously the Federal Government stands behind it, how much funding it will receive, and where such funding comes from. I would expect a lack of cooperation from stakeholders if a user fee was instituted, leaving tax revenues to fund such an agency.

The big questions for me are, will Federal funding to other public health endeavors be siphoned away to fund this proposal. And will the Fed give (mandate?) the states primacy for programs instituted by this new Agency as well as the money to man and operate such programs (Not usually a good idea in my opinion)

NEHA should advocate for better oversight over the national food supply by this new Federal Agency, with real public health agency professionals' input (not simply hearings), while not adding an extra burden to already strapped local public health departments.

Yersinia_pestis said...

Question: How should accreditation evolve as a policy consideration for local environmental health programs?

Response: In the US, health departments range from one department per large state to 352 health departments per state (as in Massachusetts). There is no "right" size as long as the department does the job of protecting public health. But it is naive to suggest that anything but the most simple common denominators could be a measure of whether a health department is "accredited" or not (which for grown-ups, recognition through accreditation for a gevernment agency seems a bit childish).

For health departments which decide not to participate in this game and that it is in their and the public’s best interest to focus on public health rather than the accreditation of their department, will such health departments be penalized regarding grant awards as has been suggested?

Matt Lindsey said...

Issue 3--As someone who has worked for three different county health departments in three different states, I believe accreditation could bring some much needed cohesion and consistency in an already fragmented field. Environmental Health programs are already accredited at the university level; I believe this has made each program stronger. Why not some national standards/guidelines on training new sanitarians, conducting field investigations, hiring qualified, credentialed people? Local conditions, e.g.funding, geography, would certainly need to be recognized, but maybe accreditation is another step in increasing our overall professionalism and visibility.

Anonymous said...

Peter Wright (UK)
Issue 1. In the UK we have our Food Standards Agency - which has some 'goods' and some 'not so goods' in my view.

Issue 3. In the UK all our courses are accredited by CIEH and all those qualifying as Environmental Health Practitioners are required to undertke the same academic and practice/professional assessments - leading to the issue of a Certificate of Registration.

I'd be happy to speak about either or both in more detail in Tucson.

PS It's cold and wet in the north of England at present!!

Jim Harless said...

Let me offer, after over 40 years in environmental health, In my early days there were more environmental generalists. The transition of the 1970s brought some view that we needed more environmental specialists to imply the generalist might not be the in way to approach public environmental health. But the public does benefit from both specialist and the environmental generalist. The generalist is often much like an environmental manager, while the env. specialist is more a defined and more intense level of studied expertise in given one or more programs of expertise. Communities need both and in some ways the generalist might at times be more inclined to use more tools on working together, on multiple approaches, or multiple objective hats, and on concensus building or problem ID and solutions, etc.
As part of our NEHA 2008 question of Who are we and who do we want to be ( Rob Blake ), we did hear keynote panel members say our profession might have a little middle age crisis,or ID crisis, or professional ED per panel member Justin Malan of CA, so I wish to more or less agree. WE are more fragmented, we do need improved collaboration, and we need to expand our arms and our reach around community needs or health or safety problems and concerns, and not think only in terms of this regulatory program or that one, to exclude other community needs. We can reach out to other experts, in format of visiting speakers to community forums, to offices of Health or environmental staff, or to local city , county, or region citizen volunteer community "environmental quality advisory boards", ( EQAB) an optional tool for added volunteer efforts to solve community issues of all proactive or reactive types.
Let me add a statement by Dennis Waitley, a motivational speaker of years back in time, he says "It's not what we are that holds us back, it's what we think we are not!" Please read it again, as it applies to individuals, to groups, to programs, to organizations, to local governments, and on and on. I can learn from it, perhaps there are others who can as well.
Finally, as an added benefit for community EQABs whether city, county, or regional, invited speakers and a planned agenda and to make the environmental issues and needs an institutionalized effort within a city or county, it is a worthy format in which the EQAB can share the agenda with local media for citizens who might not have attended, to read of efforts or suggested solutions in local newspapers. It's thus local environmental education. And we might recall an old Abe Lincoln quotation: "Public sentiment is everything! With it, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed. He who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or laws, he makes statutes or laws possible or impossible to execute."
cityjimmy@yahoo.com 6-23-2008
Jim Harless, Env. Manager, TN.