15. Patricia Daly
Chief Medical Health Officer, VP of Public Health
November 17, 2015
Age: 54 | First Appearance
Dr. Patricia Daly likes to tell friends that if they haven’t heard her on the radio, that’s probably a good thing. At a time when reason can be drowned out by hysterical online opinion, there’s much to be said for the steady voice of Vancouver’s chief medical health officer. “The risks that people perceive,” she says—speaking of Ebola and other tropical diseases—“are often much higher than the actual risks.” Instead, she says, people usually underestimate the risks of the apparently benign.
Daly is responsible for everything from the quality of the air we breathe to the safety of the food we eat to the drugs we consume—and where we can consume them. “After 20 years working in public health in Vancouver, there’s not a lot that could surprise me,” she says—even in a year that’s provided an especially textured glimpse into her quiet but widespread influence. In the spring, she helped the city navigate two environmental emergencies: the port fire in March and the oil spill in April. By June—in the absence of federal guidance—Vancouver city council began regulating the dozens of retail marijuana-related businesses that have sprung up. “Legalization and regulation of psychoactive substances like marijuana is the best way to reduce the harms associated with their use,” she says. On the radio, you could hear her nuanced explanation of why those under 19 would be prevented from entering dispensaries, and why cannabis “edibles” would be prohibited (because of the dramatic rise in childhood poisonings in U.S. marijuana retail outlets).
Then came a summer of drought and record temperatures. “Drought conditions increased forest fires in the province,” says Daly, “which had an impact on our local air quality, posing a risk to those with chronic health conditions such as asthma.” The city also faced an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness due to consumption of raw B.C. oysters contaminated by a marine bacterium that proliferates in warmer water. She ordered restaurants to stop serving raw B.C. oysters.
Daly even played a role in the transit referendum. “Advocacy is an important part of my job, and often my role is making a link to population health where it might not be obvious, to the public or to decision-makers. Advocating for a “yes” vote in the transit referendum was an easy decision—there’s “lots of good evidence around the world that people who use transit to commute to school or work are more likely to be physically active and less likely to be obese than those using cars,” she says. She also relied on results from a community health survey of 43,000 people in Metro Vancouver. “Ultimately, the decision-making process comes down to one question: will it improve population health?”
Vancouver has one of the healthiest populations in the world. When Daly travels, she tells others about the city’s low rates of smoking and obesity, the long life expectancy. Unfortunately, these numbers don’t tell the whole story. “There are people in Vancouver who don’t enjoy the same good health, and opportunities for it, as everyone else,” says Daly. “My most important job is to help reduce those population health inequities, particularly for those living in poverty, aboriginal people, and some of Vancouver’s immigrant and refugee populations.”
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