Medical Health Officer, Dr. Sue Pollock, is a leader population health serving a patient base of nearly three quarters of a million people in the Interior of British Columbia. Pollock brings a tireless enthusiasm for caring for the planet and the health of the people while finding novel ways to describe the linkages between the two. Her ground-breaking research in the area of climate change and health is engaging leaders at the local level to take action on climate protection policies. Dr. Pollock took time in her busy schedule to share some of her insights with BC Healthy Communities in the following interview.
BCHC: What is your role?
SP: I am a Medical Health Officer in Interior Health (IH), one of four public health physicians serving a population of approximately 725,000 in the Interior region. My portfolio assignments include maternal child health, surveillance, health emergency management, healthy communities, and climate change and health. Although I don’t see patients on an individual basis, I consider the communities and overall population in Interior as my patients.
"My role is not just to focus on the health issues affecting our population today, but also looking to the future."
BCHC: What do you hope for the future?
SP: I wish for a world where there is clean air, potable water, locally grown food, and where the next generation cares for the planet and its most vulnerable citizens. A mentor once asked me, “who is looking after our children and our children’s children?” I see that as my role, i.e., not just to focus on the health issues affecting our population today, but also looking to the future.
BCHC: If we were to visit you at work – what would we see?
SP: I feel very fortunate to work in downtown Kelowna, just blocks from Okanagan Lake and Knox Mountain. A quick hike or walk around the lake with colleagues is my favorite way to spend a lunch break! And, I live close enough to the office that I can walk to work. My office is in the local health unit working alongside front line public health practitioners including allied health, public health nurses, licensing officers and environmental officers.
This past week has been especially fulfilling on the healthy communities front. Some examples include co-chairing the monthly Climate Change Health Policy group (www.climatehealthbc.ca), a meeting of our IH climate and health linkages working group to discuss our response to the draft BC Climate Leadership Plan, co-chairing a steering committee meeting on a Healthy City Strategy for a local municipality, and a planning session with a subcommittee for an ecohealth session at the next Health Officers Council.
"The linkage between caring for the planet and the health of the people were ingrained in me at an early age."
BCHC: What excites you about this work?
SP: I’ve always been passionate about the environment and a healthy planet. I grew up in Kelowna in a family in the 1970s/1980s where composting and recycling were the norm, and both my parents were in healthcare. The linkage between caring for the planet and the health of the people were ingrained in me at an early age. Climate change is an issue that does or will eventually affect all of us -the entire planet. It is something that we can pull together on, find common ground, and address together as a species.
BCHC: What can local governments and community partners do to help address and reduce the negative health impacts of climate change?
SP: I would like to turn this question around and ask “What can we in the health field do for local governments and community partners to help address and reduce the negative impacts of climate change?”
Through our Healthy Communities team we are already engaged with local governments through partnership agreements, healthy living strategic plans, and in one municipality, working together on a healthy city strategy. This work focuses on issues such as food security, transportation and the healthy natural environment, all of which will have an effect on climate change and the health impacts.
BCHC: How do you help build healthier communities?
SP: As a Medical Health Officer, my role is to care for and support communities. All communities will be impacted by climate change and it is essential that health be integrated in policy responses to climate change. Within Interior Health, we now have a climate change and health lead assigned to coordinate efforts under the Vice President Population Health.
One of my more immediate goals is to continue to working with BC Healthy Communities to develop and pilot workshops aimed at internal and external partners in the Interior region to address their needs around climate change and health, including the provision of toolkits and resources for local governments and other community partners, as well as our Interior Health staff.
"All communities will be impacted by climate change and it is essential that health be integrated in policy responses to climate change."
BCHC: What are some personal milestones on your journey to helping communities?
SP: Back in 2014, I was wondering how to become more involved with climate change and health at the local level, and specifically within Interior Health. I attended a BC Healthy Communities webinar, which was excellent , on the topic of impacts and opportunities for climate change and health in BC and Canada.
I was heartened to discover that there were many Interior Health colleagues attending the same webinar and began to think how we could connect everyone. One of my first connections was with the IH Environment Sustainability Manager and we subsequently co-developed a series of documents on climate and health for our IH inside network. These are intended to provide staff with information on the relationship of topics such as air quality, food security and weather extremes with climate change and health. We also profile champions in each of these areas.
We collaborated with BC Healthy Communities on a public health rounds session on climate change and health, and asked participants to provide direction and recommendations for next steps. I am thrilled to be part of the provincial climate change and health policy group, and lead for the climate change and health narratives working group including co-facilitation of several workshops to encourage and promote the generation of stories as a novel form of climate communication.
Find more information on building shared leadership for climate action here, or contact Erica Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org.