In the summer of 1966, the Perth County Health Unit (now the Perth District Health Unit) was established as an official public health unit in Ontario.

Key Dates in Public Health History

  • 1873 – First Public Health Act passed
  • 1984 – Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act replaced Public Health Act. Office of Health Promotion created
  • 2007 – Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion established. Name changed to Public Health Ontario in 2010. Provides scientific and technical advice on public health issues.
  • For more information, read Milestones and History of Public Health Units in Ontario.
Previous Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Tamblyn receiving the key to the new Perth District Health Unit building in 1981.

Previous Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Tamblyn receiving the key to the new Perth District Health Unit building in 1981.

Organization History

  • In 1966: 19 staff, $166,000 budget.
  • Medical Officers of Health for Perth County:
    • Dr. R.M. Aldis (1966 to 1967)
    • Dr. H.H. Thompson (Acting, 1967 to 1968)
    • Dr. K.W. Hampson (1969 to 1974)
    • Dr. Susan Tamblyn (1974 to 2004)
    • Dr. Rosana (Pellizari) Salvaterra  (2004 to 2007)
    • Dr. Miriam Klassen (2007 to present)
  • Buildings:
    • 1967 to 1981: Head office was at 24 St. Andrew Street. There were also sub-offices in Mitchell and St. Marys.
    • 1981 – new head office was built on West Gore Street (current location).
    • 2005 – downtown Stratford office opened for chronic disease prevention, sexual health program and clinics.
    • 2007 – North Perth office moves out of Listowel Hospital into own office space.
  • In 2016: 128 staff; $9.5 million budget

Public Health: A Product of Partnership

Board of Health: The Perth District Health Unit is governed by an autonomous Board of Health with six elected municipal representatives and three provincial appointees.

Staff: The Perth District Health Unit workforce is made up a Medical Officer of Health, inspectors, nurses, promoters, dental hygienists, dietitians, tobacco enforcement officers, youth peer leaders, administration, epidemiology, communications and information technology (IT).

Public Health Nurse showing a mother how to bath her newborn baby.

Public Health Nurse showing a mother how to bath her newborn baby.

Partners and Stakeholders: Established connected with hospitals, doctors, schools, municipalities, long-term care homes, restaurants, salons, day cares, workplaces, local and regional agencies and government.

Our Community: In Perth County, people live in rural areas and small urban communities. The Anabaptist cultural community includes Amish and Mennonite groups.

Volunteers: The volunteer program is an integral part of program and service delivery with more than 90 volunteers.

Communication: In 1994 Health Line telephone information line was launched. Public Health Nurses now answer more than 4,000 inquiries each year. In 1998, the first Health Unit website was launched. In 2011, the Perth District Health Unit joined social media.

Public Health Nurse completing vision testing in schools.

Public Health Nurse completing vision testing in schools.

Community Health Achievements

Smoking rates have fallen: In Ontario, 50% in 1965 to 20% in 2014. Exposure to second-hand smoke also decreased. Now have smoke-free workplaces, schools, restaurants/bars, patios, playgrounds and sports fields! Tobacco products no longer displayed where they are sold.

1966 to 1996: Hearing and vision testing done on children in schools.

1967: Preventive dental health program started. In 1972, 42% of five year olds had no cavities, now 75% are cavity-free. Program expanded in 1987 to provide dental services for children who couldn’t otherwise afford it.

1971 to 1997: Home visiting a major program (32% of nursing time). Visits to new mothers, families requiring assistance with coping skills, and seniors.

1972 to 1983: Preschool Registration Nursing Assessments done to screen for developmental concerns in young children. In 2005: Calling All Three Year Olds partnership began offering universal developmental screening of children before school entry.

1974: Following the Lalonde Report, the Perth District Health Unit expanded activities towards control of “disease of lifestyle” to address smoking, drinking, nutrition, and motor vehicle accidents.

Public Health Nurse teaching kids about dental health.

Public Health Nurse teaching kids about dental health.

1977: Community nutrition services began. Today, registered dietitians provide education and work to create healthier eating environments and food security.

1980: Breastfeeding classes started. In 2015, the Health Unit received Baby Friendly Initiative designation for its work supporting and promoting breastfeeding.

1988: School nurses stop doing mass screening for head lice in schools. Now provide resources and education.

1990’s to now: Sun safety awareness increased. The Perth District Health Unit encourages schools and organizations to have shade policies. In 2014, new legislation restricts tanning bed use for youth under 18.

1992: Heart Health Perth launched, evolved into community partnership to enhance local programming and advocate for healthier communities.

1996: Public Health Nurses withdrawn from schools due to funding cuts. In 2000, the Perth District Health Unit launched a school-based public health nurse program with school nurses providing supportive counselling in schools (ongoing).

1997: Healthy Babies Healthy Children launched. Prenatal classes, parenting programs, home visiting provide support to families with infants to age six.

2004: Obesity in Ontario considered an “epidemic”. Recent focus on physical literacy, sedentary behaviour, and policy development for healthy eating and physical activity.

2000’s to present: Promotion of home, farm and road safety as well as falls prevention in seniors, and alcohol and substance misuse prevention.

Public Health Inspector and a client viewing an area of water and rocks.

Public Health Inspector and a client.

Health Protection Achievements

Immunization achievements:

  • 1975: Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine made available to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (In 1975: 12,032 cases of rubella in Canada; 2013: two cases. 1986: 836 cases of mumps in Canada. 2013: 94 cases)
  • 1976: Smallpox eradicated. Routine smallpox vaccination in Perth County discontinued.
  • 1981: Perth adopts provincial measles elimination program; achieves 95% immunization rate of school population. In 1998, Measles eliminated in Canada (travel-related cases still circulate). (1981: 2,307 cases in Canada; 2013: 82 cases).
  • 1988: Haemophilus Influenza Type B (Hib) vaccine made available in Perth, protecting kids against childhood meningitis. (1,500 Canadian children diagnosed each year before 1987. Six cases reported in Ontario in 2013.)
  • 2005: three new childhood vaccines offered for free, which guard against chickenpox, meningococcal disease, and pneumococcal disease. (1986: 51,834 cases of chickenpox in Canada. 2013: 464.)
  • 2007: Human Papillomavirus vaccine offered free to grade eight girls at school-based clinics. In 2016, Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine offered to grade seven boys and girls.
  • 2014: Panorama adopted, a new immunization records program, which manages and shares data provincially

1966: Public Health Inspectors inspected 47 eating establishments. 2015: conducted inspections at 564 establishments.

1966 to present: Well water testing for bacteria an important program due to many private wells in Perth County. In 2000, Walkerton tragedy, the Health Unit distributed 9,000 water sample bottles and answered 4,000 water-related calls. In 2008, Public Health assumed responsibility of Small Drinking Water Systems.

Little girl getting an immunization from a Public Health Nurse.

Little girl getting an immunization from a Public Health Nurse.

1974: communicable disease control program strengthened with new reporting system, including school absenteeism due to illness. Allowed for better tracking of illness in the County.

1977: Food handler education program began. Food safety courses still offered through the Health Unit.

1983: Tuberculosis (TB) testing program for students in grades one and ten stopped due to reduced incidence of Tuberculosis (TB) in Perth County.

1986: The immunization of cats and dogs against rabies became law. The Perth District Health Unit rabies prevention activities include following up on animal bites and education.

1988: First Emergency Response Plan developed. Following Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002, the Perth District Health Unit put in place Incident Management System to respond to emergencies.

1990 to present: infection control services in long-term care homes expanded and ongoing. Staff monitor outbreaks, attend infection control meetings and provide consultations.

1990: Sexual Health Team formed. Clinic services and promotion activities expanded. Now offering clinics in Stratford, Listowel, St. Marys and Mitchell.

Dale Lyttle, Public Health Inspector spraying on insect repellent.

Dale Lyttle, Public Health Inspector spraying on insect repellent.

2000: Universal influenza vaccine program launched, making the flu shot free for everyone. The Health Unit works with hospitals, doctors, schools and pharmacies to distribute vaccine each year. Over 25,000 doses distributed in 2015.

2002 to present: The appearance of West Nile virus in Perth County prompted an expansion of the vector-borne disease program. Today, Lyme disease is an increasing concern.

2006: Harm reduction program started, with offer of a needle exchange. Served two clients. Now over 700 needle exchange visits recorded each year.

Special thank you to Lucy Vorobej, a graduate student in history at the University of Waterloo, for her help in compiling these achievements.