Capable, willing and nimble: HPES responds to COVID-19

The impressive efforts of Health Protection and Environmental Services (HPES) are another example of how teams across Island Health have come together in inspiring ways to meet the challenges of COVID-19 in our communities.

HPES members, which include leaders, practice consultants, environmental health officers, public health engineers, administrative support and data analysts, are based at eight offices across Vancouver Island. The team works closely with Island Health’s Medical Health Officers to carry out its work. Its purpose is to ensure the health and safety of the population through education and enforcement of provincial laws – which involves keeping our air and water supply, the food we eat, and the environments where we live and play safe, clean and healthy.

HPES has responded admirably to the complexities and challenges posed by COVID-19. “People have been amazing – they just step up and do it,” says Cole Diplock, Regional Manager of HPES. “What stands out has been the ability of the group to organize and implement the needed tasks in a short period of time and come together as a team.”

Indeed, HPES has reacted rapidly to the Orders and oft-evolving messaging released by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer. This has involved various tasks, including developing lists of key contacts at a broad range of community facilities and businesses in order to share mass amounts of information and updates quickly.

Over a two-week period beginning in mid-March, HPES conducted more than 1,000 in-person checks with facilities to ensure that they were complying with requirements and recommendations  (encouragingly, compliance rates have been high). HPES also provides education and advises owners/operators of these facilities, which include food outlets, tattoo and piercing providers, and gyms and recreation centres.

In addition, HPES has helped support efforts to serve vulnerable populations. Several team members have visited shelters to review the sites, and provide education and guidance regarding risk reduction, physical distancing, and cleaning and sanitation. Staff have also connected with food producers and distributors – such as food banks, soup kitchens and meal programs – to ensure that food is produced and distributed appropriately, given food safety and COVID-19 considerations.

It’s been a hectic time, but the HPES team has risen to the occasion. “They did it by being capable, willing and nimble,” says Diplock. “Each member recognized their role and completed it in a professional manner.”