A few short weeks after a lack of environmental health officers in the South Slave resulted in an E. coli scare on the Hay River Reserve, the region has a new man in the position.
“On behalf of the health authority, we welcome Colin to the community … it is great to have an environmental health officer in Hay River,” said Erin Griffiths, executive assistant for the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority. “This position compliments the services we can offer in the public health area.”
Colin Merz has spent his career in British Columbia and said he is looking forward to working in the North.
“We talk about public health as protection, promotion and prevention,” he said. “But part of my job is also enforcing legislation that protects communities.”
That work includes verifying the safety of drinking water and swimming pools, as well as inspecting places where food is prepared. Merz’s position covers the whole South Slave but he said one of the first things he did was meet with the community health representative on the reserve.
“It always starts with education,” he said. “We’re there as a resource for those people, but I’m also here to fulfil monitoring.”
Merz said it all starts with strong relationships.
“A big part of why I’m here is First Nations sovereignty,” he said. “People here have been living on this land longer than anywhere else in North America. I really enjoy working with First Nations communities.”
This hire follows a false positive test for E. coli in the water tank of reserve resident Jeanna Graham.
On May 26, she saw the sample being taken and on June 2, she had a paper jammed in her door, saying that her water tank had tested positive for E. coli bacteria.
Apart from a sheaf of papers printed off a government of the State of Washington website in 2010 advising her how to deal with it, she was then left to her own devices. She had to clean the tank and later found out that the test reported the presence of e. coli bacteria erroneously.
At the time, Dr. Maureen Mayhew, the acting deputy chief public health officer, said in this case, the delay was with the interpretation of the results in Yellowknife but that there was also a problem with the response closer to home.
“Putting a paper in the door was obviously insufficient,” she told The Hub.
“The homeowner had a
right to complain.”
Merz said the issues surrounding the situation were mostly due to a breakdown in relationships.
“When there’s a gap in services, there’s an effect on the relationships,” he said. “I want to build those relationships and prevent that sort of thing from happening again.”