An interview with the director of Environmental Health Services for the City of Philadelphia
What is your purview?
Our goal is to promote health education, which we do through investigation, assessment and monitoring of four programs: lead in homes, environmental engineering, vector control – the critters that carry and spread disease to humans, like rats, mice, roaches and mosquitoes – and the office of food protection.
How did you decide on a career in public health?
I knew I wanted to help people from the time I was 5. I always thought it would be as a doctor. I went to med school and soon realized it wasn’t the way for me – I wanted to do other things. My second day on the job as a health inspector, in 1996, I was able to remove expired infant formula off the shelves of a bodega in Kensington – and I fell head over heels in love with my career. I realized this was the most impactful way for me to help people.
“Public health is defined by the public that is experiencing it.” I heard that in one of my master’s courses. It’s kind of obvious and kind of isn’t because we in government sometimes put our views of what people need over what they actually need. I always try to remember that public health is filled with generality and specificity at the same time.
What are your public safety priorities for 2017?
We want to get tobacco retailers appropriately permitted and increase our enforcement rate to get people to stop selling it to youths and minors. For lead, it’s about getting into more homes to help desperate families get the remediation they need and holding landlords accountable for the work. For vector control, we want to make sure we’re on top of investigating rat bites and monitoring mosquitoes for West Nile (virus) and Zika (virus). For environmental engineering, we are working to develop an online application for swimming pools; we inspect swimming pools and tattoo/body art places as well. For food protection, it’s really about increasing our compliance rate through the notion of cease operations orders. We don’t want you operating to cause foodborne illness.