Environmental Health Day: Supporting Healthy Environments in First Nations Communities



COVID-19 has changed the way the FNHA's Environmental Public Health team does things, but the work goes on. 

A message from Dr. Helena Swinkels, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer; and Peter Mazey, FNHA Environmental Public Health Services Regional Manager, Interior Region​

For World Environmental Health Day 2020, we're shining a spotlight on the FNHA's Environmental Public Health Services (EPHS) team, and the work they do to support healthy populations and environments in First Nations communities in BC. 

Due to the pandemic, the EPHS team's work has had to change to accommodate shifting demands and decreased travel. Some of that work has included providing food safety information, including the safe sharing of harvests; developing protocols for isolation centres; supporting restaurant and band office re-openings; sharing information about safety measures such as physical distancing for local events and businesses; and finding new ways to provide services safely and effectively. 

Working at the FNHA enables the team to connect meaningfully with communities and build strong relationships. “As Environmental Health Officers at FNHA, we're able to work closely in partnership with First Nations to achieve improved public health outcomes and protect the land that sustains us all," says Casey Neathway, Regional Manager, FNHA EPHS. “Our work is led by the needs of the First Nations, which allows us flexibility to use our skills and knowledge to meet communities where they are, and collaborate on unique and innovative programs and services." 

What is environmental health? 

Environmental Health is a branch of public health concerned with assessing and taking steps to protect people from harmful physical, chemical and biological factors in their natural and built environments. These factors include unsafe homes, poor hygiene in restaurants, or air pollution like we've recently seen from wildfires. 

Environmental health professionals help prevent disease and create health-supportive environments that sustain healthy communities. They also advance policies and programs to reduce diseases and other environmental exposures in air, water, soil and food. 

What does the FNHA environmental public health services team do?  

The FNHA EPHS team works in partnership with First Nations communities in BC to identify and prevent environmental public health risks that could impact the health of community members. When the team identifies public health risks, it makes recommendations to reduce these risks. 

The team's Environmental Health Officers provide First Nations communities with environmental inspections, investigations, drinking water quality monitoring, food safety training, communicable disease control and public education and awareness. The team is also involved – when requested by community leadership -- in inspecting or monitoring health and housing; wastewater; solid waste disposal; facilities inspections; environmental communicable disease control; emergency preparedness and response. 

The EPHS team builds on relationships with First Nations and collaborates with public health workers, provincial and local health authorities, and other federal, provincial and municipal departments and agencies when delivering environmental public health programming in First Nations communities. 

The EPHS team is proud to work with the FNHA and communities to protect public health especially during the pandemic, and of the team's work to support improvements to the social determinants of health for First Nations in BC. 

Have you ever been curious about careers in environmental public health? If so, click on this link to explore your options! Or read below for more information. 

Careers in Environmental Public Health 

There are many different kinds of careers in the field of environmental health. 

Environmental health professionals include environmental health officers, community environment stewards, environmental health specialists, sanitarians, water monitors, and public health inspectors. 

Environmental public health professionals are employed by federal, provincial and local governments, Regional Health Authorities, First Nation Tribal Councils and also within the private sector. They are involved in safety inspections; providing advice, recommendations and education through a wide range of programs and services, including but not limited to: food premises, recreational water, childcare facilities, drinking water systems, sewage systems, air quality and the control of health hazards within the community. 

Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are one of the very few public health professions that are involved in people's life: what they eat and drink; where they live and play; the air and the land. 

Working as an EHO at the FNHA means supporting communities in their efforts to preserve cultural traditions and practices, to protect the land, air and water, and to create healthy communities. Your knowledge and connections with communities, as part of our collective effort, are fundamental to keeping people safe and healthy. First Nations Health Authority Environmental Health Officers help First Nations and their leadership manage public health risks associated with the environment through advice, education, and inspections. They collect data and observations to determine whether a public health risk exists, and determine what steps can be taken to improve conditions. 

All EHOs working at the FNHA are certified by the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors, a minimum requirement in BC. 

For more information about EHO careers, visit thi​s link​.

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