National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) President Sandra Long was recently named Employee of the Year by the Town of Addison, Texas. President Long was honored with this award for her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in keeping restaurants safe through the development and implementation of virtual inspections. While geographically small (just 4.2 square miles), Addison is home to approximately 280 food establishments and food safety is extremely important. “People come to Addison for the restaurants, which is why food safety must be my top priority,” stated Long.
Long is the environmental health manager for the Town of Addison and has been in that position for over two years. She oversees the Environmental Health Division and her responsibilities include food and pool inspections and plan review, vector control, maintenance and evaluation of environmental health data, complaint investigations, and apartment/multitenant licensing. She also supervises the environmental health and code enforcement staff and is responsible for staff training.
On March 13, 2020, a local public health emergency was declared in Dallas County and within one week, all restaurants in Addison were limited to takeout and delivery, and many other retail establishments were closed. As everyone struggled to understand the affect of the pandemic on local businesses, residents, and the community, many looked to Long for guidance and she helped her town navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
To ensure food safety, virtual food inspections were adopted to provide routine food inspections during the pandemic. These virtual inspections enabled Long and her staff to assure proper food handling and preparation processes were being carried out while keeping staff and food service employees safe from exposure to the virus. In addition, Long and her staff were a resource to food establishments, often going door-to-door to make sure they were aware of regulation changes that were happening almost daily. Restaurants and businesses contacted her on nights and weekends to ask questions and get help figuring out solutions to keep their businesses open. She was always positive and upbeat even though the conversations she was having were difficult ones.
Long has emerged as a leader in the implementation of virtual inspections. She has shared the protocols her division developed for virtual inspections with others regionally and nationally through training videos, webinars, and virtual presentations. As stated in her nomination for this award, “Sandra’s leadership of the Environmental Health Division exemplifies innovation, flexibility, and a dedication to employees, customer service, and public health that is deserving of recognition.”
In addition to her food safety work, Long assisted in the drafting of COVID-19 emergency response plans for employee health and safety, illness prevention, office processes, cleaning and disinfecting, and temporary housing and quarantine. She coordinated with the town’s marketing department for information and messaging to food establishments and the general public. She played a key role in the implementation and enforcement of county and state orders for food establishments and the general public, and made herself available to the public to help them understand protocols and safety measures. Long also helped draft re-opening plans and protocols for food establishments, recreational centers, bars, gyms, schools, and courts, as well as provided guidance on how to implement these plans and protocols.
“I am overwhelmed by this honor and am excited to have the work of environment health recognized,” stated Long. NEHA congratulates President Long on this award and commends her for the leadership she has demonstrated on local and national levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.