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Career Story: Inspector For A Town Board Of Health

Inspector For A Town Board Of Health

Job Title: Health Agent

Type of Company: I work for the Board of Health doing inspections and enforcing state and local regulations.

Education: BA, Elementary Education, Bethel College (St.Paul, MN)

Previous Experience: After college I taught third grade. After raising my family I was an office manager for a small food service company, after which I worked in Human Services with developmentally disabled adults.

Job Tasks: I work for a town Board of Health which is primarily responsible for promoting good health and protecting the public from food-borne illness and infectious disease. To that end, we inspect restaurant kitchens, school cafeterias, grocery stores and convenience stores making sure they are keeping and serving foods at the correct temperatures (hot or cold), that their equipment is being cleaned properly, that they are preparing and serving food in sanitary ways, that the person in charge has the proper training, that all the regulations are being followed.

There are a lot of private wells and septic systems in our community. Part of my job is to review the placement of a well in relation to the septic system, to take water samples from newly drilled wells, to review the water test results from the lab, and make sure the property has potable water before I sign the Building Permit to allow an owner to build a house. I also review the septic plans to make sure all the state regulations are followed.

I also do communicable disease follow-ups for the state. If we receive a report from the state that there is a confirmed case of a certain disease in our town, we contact the physician and the ill person to fill out a case report form that we send back in to the Department of Public Health. The state uses the information to track cases, see if there is a large number of people with the same illness in an area, or that all ate at the same restaurant, or all attended the same event. The state uses information from the case report we turn in to try to discover how and where people got ill. There have been lots of examples in the news in the last few years: the contaminated spinach, the recall on products containing peanut butter, etc. that local health agents and state inspectors worked together on to protect the public's health.

I have many other responsibilities but that gives you a taste of some of the interesting things I do.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is that every day is different and I am always learning new things. I love feeling I am making a difference in people's lives. As an instance of what we do: we were helping a homeless man with horrible personal credit find an apartment. From doing apartment inspections, I knew the manager of the apartment building we were looking in. Because he knew me and knew that I was willing to vouch for the homeless guy, the manager took the risk of renting to him. I was able to get him the help he needed, get him on disability, and he has lived in the apartment for two years now and has never been late with his rent.

One of the worst parts of the job is that my work is never finished. There are not enough hours in my work day to accomplish all that the state requires and follow up on the complaints we receive about trash and air pollution, Canada geese polluting the lake beaches, etc., etc. Boards of Health and local Health Departments are generally seriously under-funded and understaffed. Some times we have to deal with angry people who don't want to follow the regulations and we have to take them to court to compel their compliance. That is not pleasant.

Job Tips: If you want to become a Health Agent, make sure you take at least 30 credits in science and math in college. My degree was in elementary education so I only had 12 science and math courses; just the basic requirements really. Most towns expect their Health Agents to be Registered Sanitarians. You can't even sit for the R.S. exam unless you have a college degree and 30 credits in science and math. My town hired me with the understanding I would work towards my R.S. I have been taking night courses to get more credits.

Additional Thoughts: To be successful as a Health Agent you need to work well with people. This is not a position for someone who is controlling or on a power trip. We are "code enforcers" and have to be willing to be firm and take a stand if someone is abusing the environment or is a landlord taking advantage of tenants by not providing basic services, but most of the time we need to be willing to listen and work with people, and educate them, and encourage them.

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