Describe your job, i.e. what do you do, how long have you been doing it, brief description of your organization
I have been a registered professional planner in the province of Ontario for about 15 years. The majority of my career has been in development planning. I began working in public health almost a year ago for Brant County Health Unit (BCHU). BCHU is a smaller health unit that serves a small city (>150,000 pop) and a rural area (>40,000 pop). The small city has a growing urban indigenous population, and its core and southeast area has a growing population of socioeconomically disadvantaged residents. The opioid epidemic has been felt quite strongly in our area as well.
Which area(s) of healthy built environment do you work in? What are some notable projects that you have been or are currently involved in? Are you looking for help with knowledge translation/mobilization of the project outcomes/outputs, or seeking partners and collaborators?
My position here at BCHU is focused on integrating the Ontario Public Health Standards related to the built environment and climate change. I am involved in several committees, including environmental groups, active transportation school travel, school ground greening, flood resilience, and climate change adaption for planners. I am currently leading a study on the health impacts of climate change and an assessment of adaptations for BCHU. I also provide comments on development applications and proposals, and municipal and provincial policy processes, to address healthy communities and climate change adaptation issues.
Planning healthy communities requires collaboration and I am always looking for partners and collaborators. I have been developing relationships with local groups, school boards, and municipal governments. I hope to reach some private businesses to collaborate with climate change adaptation projects and active transportation projects.
Is health promotion, population health, and healthy built environment part of your organization’s mandate and priority? How does your and your organization’s work contribute to improving population health through the built environment?
As a public health organization, health promotion and population health are our priorities. We seek to find programs and policies that promote health at individual, group, and population levels as they relate to the built environment, climate change, healthy growth and development, environmental health, chronic disease, and injury prevention, school-aged health, health equity, and substance use disorders. In my role, I work primarily in built environment and climate change, but also with different aspects such as school-aged health, injury prevention and chronic disease, and health equity.
What are some emerging challenges in your province in relation to the built environment?
The policy and planning regime in Ontario is seeing massive and ongoing change stemming from the current provincial government mandate. Keeping abreast and understanding the ramifications of these numerous policy changes and the changes to the governance of public health and health and home care is currently my biggest challenge. Legislative changes are happening with short consultation windows and it is difficult to have the time to review and analyze the proposed legislation before the comment deadline, let alone get a position statement through the internal review process once the position statement is written. This challenge is felt across the industries of public health and planning.
What motivated you to become a forum champion, and what role do you think the forum can play to promote knowledge exchange and network development in HBE in Canada?
I am new to public health, having worked most of my career in development planning. I chose to become a forum champion as a way to share my expertise in planning and learn more about public health’s involvement in healthy communities. I have learned that in a lot of smaller health units, only one or two staff are involved in HBE work, and the forum can provide much needed collaboration to help create consistency in our broader work and in the development of best practices.