Courier staff writer
VALLEY — Public health directors are calling for help with environmental affairs, and the state is willing to help them out if the county bosses say yes.
On Monday, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) representatives visited with Valley County Commissioners during their regular meeting to discuss bringing an environmental health position to the Valley. The position would focus on the Valley’s 426 consumer protection facilities including food safety (restaurants), childcare and schools.
CDPHE Environmental Health and Safety Director Jeff Lawrence told the board that after meeting with the Valley’s public nurses last month, he learned environmental services were limited in the area. He advised the board to pull resources from each of the counties to create the new full time position, which the CDPHE could fund for around $82,000, which includes licensing fees. If the counties do not unite and Alamosa takes on the responsibility, being the hub of the Valley, the department could provide funding for $30,000, including licensing fees.
If the board should decide before the end of August to bring the Valley under one public health umbrella, there is an opportunity for a two-year, $100,000 grant to create and implement an environmental health plan.
“I think it would be beneficial to the counties,” said Rio Grande County Commissioner Karla Shriver. “We need to go to regional/Valley public health.”
Bringing an environmental health position to the Valley would help the region satisfy Senate House Bill 194, the Public Health Act. The act authorizes the Office of Planning and Partnerships of CDPHE to create a Statewide Public Health Improvement Plan, including core services and standards that will set priorities for the public health system in Colorado, and will provide the basis for local public health improvement plans.
The new position would also allow San Luis Valley health inspector Chris Heffernen some relief without sending an environmental health expert from Denver intermittently.
“Having inspectors at the local level is important,” Lawrence said. “An out-of-the-Valley inspector has no connection to the community and the community could suffer.”
Saguache County Commissioner Sam Pace agreed. “Local handling keeps businesses open. A local person could see problems before they happen.”
In addition, the new position could provide public health a new expertise on environmental health situations like bedbugs and water boil orders.
“This would be a much more efficient way to get our questions answered locally,” said Saguache County Public Health Director Della Vieira. “These things are not public health.”
Lawrence said the ideal candidate for the position would have a degree in environmental health or science-related degree and posses a Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) certificate, a credential that shows competency in environmental health issues; the ability to direct and train personnel; the skills to respond to routine or emergency environmental situations; and the knowledge to frequently provide education to their communities on environmental health concerns.
The CDPHE representatives will return in late August or early September to further discuss the environmental health position with the board.
Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability
The division monitors food, milk, drugs and medical devices; regulates food preparation environments such as restaurants, food manufacturers, and processing plants; day care centers; correctional facilities and schools; regulates, reviews and investigates foods; consumer products and household substances; helps control insects, rodents and other vectors of animal borne diseases; consults with regulated industries, communities, organizations and individuals; coordinates consumer protection activities with local, state and federal agencies; institutes corrective actions for recognized public hazards in the marketplace; and assists consumers with complaints.
The Division of Environmental Health and Sustainability also promotes innovative efforts to develop and implement environmentally sustainable practices in Colorado; integrates environmental sustainability and innovative concepts into department activities and regulatory programs; builds partnerships to achieve improved compliance and encourage beyond compliance outcomes, and to foster environmental leadership among Colorado businesses, the public and government entities.
–Courtesy of CDPHE