BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
The Long Beach Health and Human Services Department does much more than many people realize. Last week, the department conducted a “town hall meeting” to increase the public’s awareness of its programs and to educate residents on issues pertaining to their health. About 40 people attended the meeting, which took place on the evening of April 9 at the Miller Family Education Center, 3820 Cherry Ave.
Acting Environmental Health Bureau Manager Nelson Kerr opened the meeting by telling the audience that the health department’s mission is “to improve the quality of life for the residents of Long Beach by addressing public health and human service needs and by promoting a healthy environment in which to live, work and play.” He noted that the department, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006, currently employs 424 staff members.
Kerr also told the audience that the department works hard to prevent epidemics and the spread of communicable diseases, protect against environmental hazards, promote and encourage healthy behaviors, prevent injuries, make sure the public has access to available heath department services, and work with various agencies and the public to ensure disaster preparedness. Kerr noted that education plays a major role in the accomplishment of those goals, and the town hall meeting was part of the department’s educational efforts.
After Kerr, Jackie Hampton, the department’s food program supervisor, took the microphone. “Food safety is something we are always concerned about on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I want to assure you that the United States has one of the safest, if not the safest, food (inspection and distribution) systems in the world.”
Hampton outlined how the food-recall process works. She pointed out that federal, state and local food inspectors monitor the food production, transport, processing and distribution process, nevertheless, contaminated food occasionally ends up in grocery stores and restaurants. She pointed out that the amount of contaminated food distributed is a very miniscule amount compared to the millions of tons of food products produced in the United States.
She stressed, however, that even that miniscule amount is not acceptable and governmental agencies are searching for ways to increase the efficiency of the inspection process. Hampton also gave the audience tips on proper food preparation and refrigeration techniques to prevent food poisoning at home.
The next speaker was Judeth Luong, program manager for the health department’s healthy homes demonstration project. She focused primarily on ways to avoid the release of toxic fumes in the home and the importance of removing toxic substances, like lead paint, from homes.
“A lot of the things that people use to clean their homes and carpets are toxic and trigger asthma attacks,” Luong said. She explained that the healthy homes project aims at educating the public on how to use cleaning products that are non-toxic, and less expensive, but just as effective as the products most people use today. A few examples of those non-toxic products include: Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean spots on linoleum, tile and woodwork; baking soda, scrub pads and water to clean ovens; and a mixture of water and vinegar or lemon juice to clean windows and mirrors.
John Keiser, manager of the health department’s animal care bureau, took the microphone next. “Over the next couple of years Long Beach will truly become the safest large city in California for people and animals,” Keiser asserted. “I want to share with you a few of the things that we will be working on and the things that you can do as community members to help us get there.”
In his 15-minute presentation, Keiser stressed that enforcing animal control laws was only one component of making Long Beach a safer city. “The second component is the humane treatment of animals,” he said. That, he explained, meant making sure the city’s animal shelter at the P.D. Pitchford Companion Animal Village and Education Center in El Dorado Park is maintained as a top-notch facility for the care, rehabilitation and adoption of animals. “The third part of this is having an engaged community,” he said. “We educate and empower people with tools so that they can take care of their own animals and promote humane treatment and public safety in their own neighborhoods.”
Dr. Helene Calvet spoke next. She said one of the biggest concerns pertaining to public health nowadays is the obesity epidemic that is affecting children as well as adults. Calvet noted that a myriad of health problems can be traced to obesity. She added that more must be done to educate the public on the necessity of maintaining a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
The approximately two-hour town hall meeting was part of a series of lectures and other events coordinated by the health department to commemorate National Public Health Week, April 6-10.