Trying to explain what the field of environmental health is to people on the outside can feel like speaking a different language. People often think, “an environmental health department is where they focus on environmental sustainability, or parks and recreation, right?” Not totally. Environmental health departments often oversee as many as 40 different programs — separate business units — which are often governed by different regulations, budgets, and funding sources. This makes it a somewhat unique government agency, with unique challenges and pain points for environmental health leaders, staff and IT administrators.
Environmental Health departments are most commonly known for inspecting restaurants, or monitoring water quality, but you can see from the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA)’s website, that environmental health gives oversight over many aspects of our daily lives:
- Food safety (food establishment: restaurants, gas stations, food trucks, etc.)
- Recreational water (swimming pools, hot tubs, spas)
- Septic systems (commercial and residential)
- Groundwater contamination (pesticide & farm run-off, chemical spills, etc.)
- Private drinking water
- Vector control (rodent, pest infestations)
- Body art businesses (tattoo & piercings)
- Nail salons
- Solid waste (discarded tires, scrap metal, etc.)
- Hazardous materials/household waste (chemicals, cleaning solutions, batteries, oil, paint disposal, etc.)
As you can imagine, it can be challenging for these different units to fall under one roof, under one director, and, if they’re lucky, with one or more IT staff to oversee technical program requirements. Some units are made up solely of plan reviewers, and some have inspectors that spend most of their time in the field, doing inspections. The needs between units can be vastly different, due to the varied expertise required for each. This makes environmental health agencies especially susceptible to operating in a silo and presents unique challenges for departments.
Reducing Pain Points
We all have “pain points” associated with our job. We know it when we see it. It’s the thing that can require extra tasks before we can begin the main task. It can delay our deadlines, divert our attention from the main goal, but sometimes we have to create our own solution to the problem to move forward. These necessary side projects can often create silo between departments, when facilities pending inspection in one program aren’t visible to another, because they’re stored on someone’s desktop.
Often, the pain points across health departments are the same: mapping upcoming inspections, routing them in an efficient way, tracking who has paid fees, creating new ways of capturing permit information in a system often built for a different program, and the list goes on.
The needs are endless, and often, the solutions we create as a stop-gap are endless; and therein lies the problem. Without a unified solution and process, information-sharing is difficult.
The key into gaining visibility on the regulatory history for facility, across programs is data tracking. In a recent Journal of Environmental Health article, Vince Radke, president of NEHA, discussed the importance of data. In his piece, Show me the Data, he outlines the importance of being able to answer simple questions on how an agency is fairing in reaching their targets, “As environmental health professionals, we need to ask ourselves, ‘What do we not know that we need to know?’”. Answering this question without visibility into data across programs can be a big challenge.
OK, say we’ve got data tracking down; now how do we share it with the world to help decision makers, university students, state regulators, and others use it to inform their work, in a digestible way? In a world where data reigns supreme, government agencies are still catching up, focusing first on gathering the data before it can be shared. If there’s anything that health department leaders can do to help gain the cred they need to fight for more funding or staffing, it’s to consider ways of sharing their data – even if they aren’t collecting it yet.
The Goal: Protect Public Health
Those of us that have worked at an Environmental Health Department know that the number one goal of every task or project is protecting public health. Protecting the elderly from getting sick at a restaurant; ensuring that young children who get their drinking water from wells can live a life free of sickness. Though we all have our own ways of solving pain points quickly, there just might be a better way.
Offering a Solution
In the private sector, when a company has a challenge that affects multiple business units but doesn’t have the personnel to address the challenge (sound familiar?), they often hire a third-party contractor to help. Accela has not only designed software that specifically solves health department’s pain points across programs, but also has personnel that have either worked in or alongside health departments to help guide them on best practices for process improvement, in and outside of the software. That means, when you choose Accela, you’ve chosen a partner who is just as dedicated to protecting public health as you are.
The ability of our local health departments to run smoothly and efficiently has an impact on our lives whether we realize it or not. Accela is in the business of maximizing that impact, one health department at a time.
The Accela Civic Solution for Environmental Health is our answer to the call of protecting public health. Many of the barriers to seeing well-functioning department that is a partner with operators are solved through good process development and supported by smart software. The keystone of the Civic Platform, which is what Accela Environmental Health (AEH) is built upon, is a powerful, configurable system that can be set up to match an agency’s current workflow outside of the system.
If your support staff sends emails to operators if their application is missing information, with AEH, operators submitting online won’t be able to submit their application unless all required fields are filled out. If inspectors struggle with planning the order of their inspections for the day, with the tap of a finger, the problem is solved. Inspectors don’t have to come back to the office to enter in inspection data – it’s automatically pushed to the database from their mobile inspection device, saving time and money in gas, and duplicate entry. Best of all, all data across programs will be stored in one system, so that environmental health leaders can answer questions like, “how many hotels with a swimming pool are there in our community?”, and “how many permits have we issued this year in all of our programs?”.
Accela Environmental Health was created to help health departments operate more efficiently, making the job of protecting public health that much easier.
For more information on Accela Environmental Health, visit or environmental health solution page here.