Ana S.: My Summer Project In Data Collection

My Summer Project In Data Collection

By Ana S.

During my time here in El Paso County, I had the opportunity to see and experience many different parts of public health. While I have been working on designated tasks related to rabies and vector borne disease prevention, I have also been able to shadow other environmental health specialists to get a better sense of what a typical day looks like for an employee in the Environmental Health Division. Being a fresh set of eyes during these shadowing experiences is what eventually led me to developing my second project for the summer.

El Paso County has over 2700 Retail Food Establishments (RFEs), each one with their own set of food safety challenges. For restaurants specializing in international cuisine, many of their challenges relate to the language and cultural barriers that operators experience when interacting with inspectors. Past inspection reports suggest that many of these restaurants have a much higher number of critical violations than other facilities. Many of the health specialists I spoke to explained that these violations were usually related to the resistant behavior of  restaurant operators, which has made it very difficult for specialists to collaborate and work toward developing safer facilities. While I had experienced this resistance first-hand, I also noticed another trend that I thought may explain the problem further. At many of these food facilities, operators and employees spoke little to no English. This barrier can pose quite a challenge for the health department, as they have no health specialists on staff who speak any language other than English or Spanish. Additionally, while Hispanic and English speaking facilities can receive educational materials in their native language, health specialists have no resources available for any other languages. This often leaves multicultural restaurants in the dark when it comes to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. Noticing this trend made me wonder if the lack of compliance was caused, not by a lack of willingness to comply, but rather by a lack of understanding on how to comply.

That’s when I started developing my project, which is working to provide resources and information to employees in their native language in the hope of giving them a better understanding of how to run a safer restaurant. For my remaining time here, I’ve been working with the director of the food program, as well as a population health epidemiologist, to complete a number of tasks that will help put this plan into effect. First, I’ve been conducting a survey, which was recently sent to all 2700 RFEs in El Paso County, asking what languages are commonly spoken between employees and owners. Second, I’ve been collecting and developing a set of documents which can be given to all health inspectors to be used when working with non-English speaking employees. Finally, I’ve been developing a color-coded map, which indicates where restaurants are located and what languages are spoken at each restaurant, so inspectors can prepare to bring the correct materials prior to the inspection. All the while, I’ve been working with health specialists to educate them on how to be more culturally aware, in order to produce a more collaborative environment during inspections.

This project has required a lot of time, collaboration, and problem solving skills to produce effective results. It’s also been a project that’s required me to utilize my background in statistics and epidemiological practices. In the end, this project will hopefully be the first of many investigations into how we can develop better cross-cultural communication strategies as a governmental agency. I’m really glad that I could be a part of the beginning of this process!

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