Our History

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 (2010). Provides scientific and technical advice on public health issues.
  • For more: Milestones and History of Public Health Units in Ontario

Organization History

  • In 1966: 19 staff, $166,000 budget.
  • Medical Officers of Health for Perth County:
    Old picture of Dr. Tamblyn receiving key to new building

    Dr. Tamblyn receiving the key to the new head office

    • Dr. RM Aldis (1966 – 1967)
    • Dr. H.H. Thompson (Acting, 1967-1968)
    • Dr. K.W. Hampson (1969-1974)
    • Dr. Susan Tamblyn (1974-2004)
    • Dr. Rosana (Pellizari) Salvaterra  (2004-2007)
    • Dr. Miriam Klassen (2007-present)
  • Buildings:
    • 1967-1981: Head office at 24 St. Andrew St. Sub-offices in Mitchell and St. Marys.
    • 1981 – new head office built on West Gore Street (current location).
    • 2005 – downtown Stratford office opened for chronic disease prevention and 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: PDHU is governed by an autonomous Board of Health with 6 elected municipal representatives and 3 provincial appointees.

Staff: PDHU 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 IT.

old picture of two nurses caring for newborn babiesPartners and Stakeholders: Established connected with hospitals, doctors, schools, municipalities, long-term care homes, restaurants, salons, daycares, 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. 1998: First PDHU website was launched. 2011: Joined social media.

Community Health Achievements

Smoking rates have fallen: 50% in 1965 to 20% in 2014 (Ontario). 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.

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

1967: Preventive dental health program started. In 1972, 42% of 5-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.

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

1972-1983: 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, PDHU expanded activities towards control of “disease of lifestyle” to address smoking, drinking, nutrition, and motor vehicle accidents.

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

1980: Breastfeeding classes started. 2015: PDHU received Baby Friendly Initiative designation for its work supporting and promoting breastfeeding.Old picture of nurse teaching kids about dental health

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

1990s to now: Sun safety awareness increased. PDHU encourages schools and organizations to have shade policies. 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. 2000: PDHU 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 children 0 to 6.

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

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

Health Protection Achievements

1966–1998: As part of the Land Control Program, Public Health Inspectors approved applications for septic tank systems and inspected new installations. TransferredOld picture of inspectors to municipalities in 1998.

Immunization achievements:

  • 1975: MMR vaccine made available to protect against measles, mumps and rubella (1975: 12,032 cases of rubella in Canada; 2013: 2 cases. 1986: 836 cases of mumps in Canada. 2013: 94)
  • 1976: Smallpox eradicated. Routine smallpox vaccination in Perth County discontinued
  • 1981: Perth adopts provincial measles elimination program; achieves 95% immunization rate of school population. 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. 6 cases reported in Ontario in 2013.)
  • 2005: 3 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 8 girls at school-based clinics. 2016: HPV vaccine offered to grade 7 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 – present: Well water testing for bacteria an important program due to many private wells in Perth County. 2000: Walkerton tragedy, PDHU distributed 9,000 water sample bottles and answered 4,000 water-related calls. In 2008: Public Health assumed responsibility of Small Drinking Water Systems.old picture of little girl getting an immunization from a 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 PDHU.

1983: Tuberculosis (TB) testing program for students in grades 1 and 10 stopped due to reduced incidence of TB in Perth County.

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

1988: First Emergency Response Plan developed. Following SARS outbreak in 2002, PDHU put in place Incident Management System to respond to emergencies.

1990- 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.

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

2002-present: The appearance of West Nile virus in Perth County prompted an expansion of the vector-borne disease program. Today, Lyme disease is an picture of a health inspector using insect repellentincreasing concern.

2006: Harm reduction program started, with offer of a needle exchange. Served 2 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.