Among the many who have worked beyond what they had previously thought was their limit for the past two years is City of Lancaster Chief Health Officer Kim Wissler.
The city’s health officers are usually tasked with investigating disease and plague outbreaks – from hepatitis to bed bugs – and coordinating and informing the public about health-related issues. Although Wissler has spent nearly 22 years keeping his hometown safe from ongoing public health risks, the last two years have presented greater and more recent challenges.
Among Wissler’s general responsibilities is overseeing the safety of Lancaster City’s more than 450 food businesses, from grocery stores to cafes and dining halls.
While trying to maintain a cycle of inspections – the results of which will be displayed as a report card at restaurants across the city – Wissler has served as a go-to COVID-19 connection for restaurant owners. She interpreted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and linked input from public health consultants such as Dr. Bill Fife – president of the Lancaster City Board of Health – with restaurateurs in crisis to help ease quarantines and security measures. She worked tirelessly to get businesses reopened as quickly as possible, while balancing the safety and hopes of our citizens and guests.
Unfortunately, some smaller establishments were forced to close permanently, and even the casual observer notes that public dining rooms are not as crowded as they were three years ago.
Fortunately, however, Wissler reports that business owners in our city have been 98% cooperative with her advisors, demonstrating genuine persistence and a “safety first” attitude that has helped our area’s COVID-19 case fall dramatically in the last few months. And when the restrictions are relaxed, the warmer seasons will be a welcome opportunity to advise vendors at outdoor fairs, festivals and events.
Wissler has also helped build a mindful eating / healthy lifestyle program, characterized by a seed distribution and home garden program called Mindful Eating Health Living From the Ground Up. It’s a back-to-the-backyard initiative run solely with donations of seeds, soil and containers from a variety of local businesses such as Four Seasons Produce, Kegel’s Produce, Ken’s Gardens and Esbenshade’s Garden Center.
Wissler coordinates handovers and pickup of resources that have reached more than 200 families in the city in the past year alone. This program continues to evolve, with unripe seedlings and seeds being further distributed to local gardeners.
Wissler also plans to coordinate the education of Penn State master gardeners and Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health representatives for health and wellness to ensure that conservation and preservation make these crops enjoyable year-round.
However, restaurants and food are not her only concerns. Wissler is also the chief adviser to municipal employees and helps guide the police department and other agencies regarding quarantines, isolations and how to deliver secure and appropriate pandemic-related information to a public bombarded with rapidly changing messages.
And Wissler continues to make other efforts, including helping coordinate lead safety and reduction in the city, something she has been involved in throughout her 22 years in her role. She helps enforce the process, issues quotes and advises landlords to protect our youngest citizens from exposure.
In addition, she is our city’s primary vector controller – read “rat and mosquito management.” Thus, she not only oversees the collection of old tires – which remove potential insect breeding sites – but also makes most of the city with bait herself. As such, it is she who crawls down sewers and drains, looking for the most effective places to give a powerful blow to disease vectors.
Over the years, Wissler has written several directives, including the city’s tattoo and body piercing ordinance. With about 15 establishments and more than 120 artists throughout the city, Wissler has helped facilitate training to keep artists aware of needle and blood-borne pathogen risks.
While Lancaster County has not yet committed to the development of a health department, and further assessment of community needs is an ongoing need, Wissler is excited about the creation of a City Health Bureau.
As a manager, she has been in charge of hiring a social worker, and the city is now looking for two more health professionals to join her team. A viable graduate must be able to study for and pass various certification exams – Wissler has three separate licenses, including one in lead and another in pest control – but there is the option of an apprenticeship where Wissler will be able to provide training.
More hands on deck will mean a chance to codify the relationship with the city’s Bureau of Property Maintenance and Housing Inspections, to catch up on inspections and re-inspections lingering in a post-pandemic world, and to help with new initiatives that Wissler has in mind. on. .
Food insecurity in the city remains a problem, and Wissler hopes for food distribution as needed, for cold storage facilities that will provide cheap or no-cost options for those who can not pay, and for expanding seed distribution and gardening.
We continue to hope for a brighter Lancaster future. One way to achieve this is to thank those who have helped us through our darkest days. Kim Wissler is definitely one of the heroes. Thanks, Kim!
Dr. Corey Fogleman is a local family physician and vice president of the Lancaster City Board of Health.