Interview with Brian Hanft, Environmental Health Service Manager, Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health
Briefly describe your work and its relation to public health.
Greetings! For nearly twenty-five years, I have worked in a local public/environmental health office. Currently, I am the environmental health service manager for the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health. My primary duties involve directing, coordinating, and supervising the environmental services that include inspections services for food, swimming pool/spa, onsite waste water, non-public water wells, as well as water testing, mosquito surveillance, healthy homes, radon testing, animal bites and nuisance investigations. I manage a budget and complete routine reporting. In our organization, environmental and public health is one in the same. They are directly connected to one another sharing office space, general public health functions, strategic plans, and response programming.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
The most rewarding aspect of my work is observing colleagues build and develop programs from the ground up. By allowing people to use their “brainware” to develop or revamp programs with positive impacts and outcomes, it connects them to their work and workplace.
The second most rewarding aspects of my work are the public health impacts that allow people to lead healthier lives. In 2015, a five year research project was completed that identified the source of arsenic in rural water supplies and the ways to minimize exposures for well users. This work, which was the cumulative work by many state organizations, lead to programmatic changes in the Grants To Counties (GTC) allowing arsenic testing statewide. (https://cghealth.com/topics/water-arsenic-in-groundwater/.
What led you to this career?
As a UNI student, I stumbled upon this career via an internship with the Black Hawk County Health Department. The internship turned into a part-time job and then a full-time job. In 1998, I transitioned to Des Moines where I worked for Polk County environmental health for four years. In 2002, I moved to Cerro Gordo County to serve in my current position. I’m still not sure how 25 years has passed. Regardless, this career path has been challenging and rewarding.
What do you see as the greatest challenges and opportunities for public health in Iowa in the next two years?
There are so many challenges facing public health in the coming years but I feel some of the primary ones include:
- Programmatic funding (tax support, grant competition, etc) is a constant challenge. We can all use more money, right?
- Recruiting adequately trained staff will become more and more difficult (nurses, sanitarians, grant writers, administrators).
- Keeping pace with technology – telemedicine, 5G wireless connectivity, and mental health will become increasingly a concern for people who are isolated by the technology.
- Chronic disease management (diabetes, heart disease, obesity) versus wellness programming – how does public health AT LEAST slow the progression of childhood obesity, type II diabetes, heart disease?
- Cannabis. Legalized recreational use of marijuana should be a program we prepare for. In my opinion, it is just a matter of time before it is legalized nationally. This will be both a challenge and an opportunity.
There are also many opportunities for public health in the next two years. They include:
- Local impact on climate change – local public health can promote programs that reduce our carbon footprint including solar energy promotion (Linn and Johnson Counties have already initiated these efforts), wind energy, geothermal energy.
- Advancing technology to keep pace with current trends and processes. Telemedicine is a great example.
- Improve and promote partnerships.
- Seek grant funding to help offset programmatic cuts.
- Advance the Aging in Place model of public health.
- Continue to advance emergency preparedness
What role do you think IPHA could play in meeting those opportunities?
IPHA is a key partner for advancing public health policy through advocacy, education, and networking. IPHA will be a leader in making educational opportunities available and our policy efforts.