Brian Zamora has been a member of NEHA and the California Environmental Health Association (CEHA) for over 40 years. He retired in 2015 from the County of San Mateo in California, after 27 years of service, most recently as its Director of Family Health Services. Before that, Mr. Zamora served as the county’s Director of Public Health and Environmental Protection, where he managed the first county-wide dental health care study of migrant workers, people experiencing homelessness, and their families. He worked with community leaders to open Sonrisas, a clinic providing no-cost dental care for these chronically underserved populations. He also collaborated with the county’s Health Officer to purchase its first mobile health care clinic. In his spotlight story, we hear in Brian’s own words about his experience in these areas as well as the importance of having an environmental health staff that reflects the diversity of the communities that they serve.
During my tenure in San Mateo County, I initiated a collaboration between the Environmental Health and Public Health (PH) Divisions in the town of Pescadero, California. Pescadero is an agricultural community with a high number of farm labor camps and farm laborers predominantly of Mexican descent. The effort involved taking the PH mobile van to the farm labor camps to provide immunizations, vaccinations, and limited primary care to the farm labor employees and their families. The PH mobile van went out twice a month at a prescribed time and location to maximize its utilization. I met with the County Agricultural Advisory Council to get their buy-in and participation. They liked the joint effort as it allowed their farm labor employees to get much-needed medical and public health care while on the site and not having to take time off from work.
In both Solano and San Mateo counties, I was the first Hispanic Environmental Health director, so encouraging diversity awareness was a personal commitment for me as a manager and director. With the support of the San Mateo County Dental Coalition, I established a dental clinic (Sonrisas) in Half Moon Bay, California to provide dental care to the farm labor employees and their families at a low cost. Sonrisas, however, was not limited to farm laborers and their families. It provided low-cost dental care to many diverse minority populations in the Half Moon Bay area. Without Sonrisas, dental care was not available to the people living in poverty and working for minimum wage. The Environmental Health staff were able to make referrals to Sonrisas when they came across workers in local restaurants, schools, hotels, and tourism businesses that needed dental care.
As the Environmental Health Director in Solano and San Mateo Counties, I changed the hiring practices of both organizations. Originally the staff of both counties was mostly white males. Solano had one woman out of 25 staff and San Mateo had five women out of 70 staff. Further, the staff did not reflect the demographics of the people living and working in the counties; they were mostly white men while both counties had sizable minority populations. By the time I left Solano County 40% of the staff were women from diverse backgrounds and races. In San Mateo County, 60% of the staff were women with many becoming program supervisors and management.
This story is part of a limited series highlighting members who are working on diversity efforts within EH. If you, or a NEHA member you know, are interested in being a part of this blog series, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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