Environmental Health Innovations During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, environmental health professionals have worked tirelessly to protect the health and well-being of their communities. A COVID-19 environmental health workforce needs assessment conducted by the National Environmental Health Association in July and August 2020 found that all sectors of the workforce—local, state, federal, tribal, and territorial health departments as well as the private sector—were actively involved in the COVID-19 response. According to the report, environmental health department staff took on numerous responsibilities outside their typical scope of work. Many employees, however, reported a lack of adequate guidance, training, supplies, and staff to fulfill these responsibilities and faced difficulties managing their workload as a result. Workers also cited problems working from home and a lack of work–life balance as additional challenges. They also reported feeling extremely stressed, overworked, and burnt out.
Nevertheless, environmental health professionals in local health departments and environmental health programs across the nation quickly adapted to these unprecedented circumstances. Many came up with innovative approaches or entirely new approaches for addressing challenges impacting environmental health services delivery as well as helping support effective response and recovery efforts.
NEHA, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, sought to recognize some of the innovative programs, activities, or strategies that were developed by state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments to deliver essential environmental health services during the pandemic. This partnership led to the development of the NEHA Environmental Health Innovation Awards that served to recognize and award environmental health programs with both monetary awards and workforce development resources. Four different levels of awards were given: Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable Mention.
NEHA is pleased to share the stories of these award winners and the innovative programs and procedures they implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gina Bare, RN, National Environmental Health Association
Alyssa Wooden, MHS, National Environmental Health Association
Jesse C. Bliss, MPH, National Environmental Health Association
David T. Dyjack, DrPH, CIH, National Environmental Health Association