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Even though environmental health people do not carry out their work as members of a political party, they still are constantly involved with the public, politicians, and the media and have to take this into account when seeking funds for programs. An example of what can go wrong is as follows:

• In County “A” in Illinois, the new Director of Public Health eagerly started a variety of environmental health and public health programs. He generated a huge amount of media publicity. His work was so good that the County Board of Health gave him an increase in salary. However, the County Board of Commissioners fired him. The problem was that he did not understand the concerns of the Commissioners, which were more important to them than environmental health or public health problems. You must understand your local political environment.

• In County “B” in Illinois, the new Director of Public Health wanted to enhance the programs of the department. He started with the Maternal and Child Health Program.

He formed an advisory committee of citizens including several of the wives of the County Commissioners. The advisory committee moved the Maternal and Child Health Program forward because of the needs of the community and because it was non-controversial. This was then followed by additional public health and environmental health programs.

These two incidents actually occurred in the past and as a result of the miscalculation of the needs of the political entity in County “A,” there was a sharp reduction in budget for essential programming instead of an increase. This is a prime example of the need to understand political factors when instituting new programming and requests for budget.

Best Practices in Avoiding Problems in Politics

  • • Make one authoritative individual responsible for all contacts with the media.
  • • Provide to the media time and authoritative personnel needed to explain various environmental health issues and programs especially during times of great interest such as outbreaks of disease.
  • • Make the media your friend wherever possible by providing good and interesting stories that will not only teach proper techniques but also can be used to highlight specific efforts in prevention of disease and injury or resolution of ongoing and/or new problems.
  • • Learn the current concerns of the public as well as various political factors and try to adapt the needs of specific programs to meet these concerns.
  • • Arrange for members of the various budgetary committees in government to get frequent one- or two-page briefings on the problems, potential solutions, and budgetary needs for personnel and equipment to resolve current problems and potential serious problems in the future. Substantiate the briefings with well-thought-out, concise, easy-to-read-and- understand documents which can be presented to these individuals if they so desire.
  • • Never practice partisan politics.
  • • Let the media or political entities take credit for whatever successes occur during the operation of various environmental health programs.
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