Public health, medicine is an essential partnership

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What is the relationship between public health and health care in our community?

The answer is “partnership.” The overall health of our community depends on collaborative efforts between El Paso County Public Health (population focused) and our local health care providers (patient focused).

Both public health and medical providers offer programs and services that address health concerns, while helping to sustain quality of life for our residents. They carry out a common mission to enable people to live their lives to the fullest; but neither can fully accomplish this mission without the other.

There are unique, specialized duties and responsibilities that distinguish public health from health care, but also strengthen our partnership to benefit our community.

Medical providers treat individual patients for specific diseases and injuries, along with conducting periodic exams to ensure you and I enjoy continued health. Patients often visit their providers on an as-needed basis. Public health professionals routinely monitor diseases and identify possible public health threats for the entire community in efforts to stop or minimize the impact of those threats. These programs and services are year-round, and are directed at controlling and preventing infectious diseases and other conditions that ultimately cause substantial illness, hospitalization or death in our population.

Restaurant inspections

Gone are the days when you had to visit our public health office to review restaurant inspection reports. El Paso County Public Health is making it easier to check on your child’s school cafeteria, favorite restaurant or grocery store by offering retail food establishment inspection reports online.

A common misconception is that a business’ food safety practices can be judged by the cleanliness of the restrooms or eating areas. The majority of key food safety practices are not apparent for patrons to assess. Our inspectors are very thorough and focus on educating food handlers on how to use the “best” methods to achieve food safety to prevent foodborne illnesses. Businesses want to do the right thing and our inspectors are enthusiastic to help them.

State law requires our agency to conduct two unannounced inspections annually of the 2,300 restaurants, school cafeterias, grocery stores, food trucks and other retail food establishments in El Paso County. Plan reviews and inspection of new facilities also are conducted prior to opening a business opening and public complaints may prompt our agency to do an investigation.

Public health inspectors are trained professionals with college degrees in the natural sciences. Inspectors review several items including:

  • Is the food from an approved source and free of spoilage?
  • Are employees working while sick? Do they wash their hands often and correctly?
  • Is food cooked hot enough and stored cold enough to kill germs or prevent their growth?
  • Are water and sewer systems operating appropriately to provide for sanitation?
  • Are pests present at the facility?
  • Are toxic or poisonous materials stored properly?

Inspection reports should be viewed as a “snapshot” of conditions on the day of the inspection. Only violations are reflected in the online reports. Critical violations — those that may cause food-borne illness — often are corrected before the inspector leaves the establishment.

Inspection reports from 2009 to the present are available on El Paso County Public Health’s website at www.elpasocountyhealth.org.

Kandi Buckland is the Executive director of El Paso County Public Health