Peek-Ball reflects on most wonderful career’
The Chief Medical Officer expected to spend the past few months completing projects before she settled into retirement after a career in public health that spanned almost three decades.
But Cheryl Peek-Ball’s final stretch in the job was instead consumed by crisis management of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “The feeling is one of intense activity and volatility of the environment, so that what the situation is one day, the next day it may not be.
“Change is at a really unusual clip, so we have had to do policy development at a frantic pace ... sometimes the ink hasn’t dried before we need to change the policy as scientific evidence or epidemiologic conditions change.”
Dr Peek-Ball added that the team also had to be responsive to the real-life impacts of policy, which might become apparent only after it was introduced.
She said: “Even though Bermuda has made some very, very good decisions with regards to public-health policy to contain the infections when they come to the island, we’re going to be increasingly challenged.
“This is a global world and we can’t have closed borders for very long — that was a great containment measure when it had to occur, but now we have to move into a new normal, a new reality really, where we are able to identify disease that is being imported quickly at the borders and appropriately isolate people who are infected.”
She added that track-and-trace work carried out after a positive coronavirus test result could get “very complicated quickly”.
Dr Peek-Ball, 61, who will step down from her role at the end of the month, said: “You only need one imported case that has a very big social life and is not taking proper public-health precautions like wearing masks, particularly, and staying out of crowded indoor spaces.
“You can have one case become 20 cases and 20 cases become 100 cases.
“It is something that we can never get complacent with.”
Dr Peek-Ball warned that any overseas travel put people at risk of exposure to the coronavirus.
She said: “Even though we have that wonderful testing regimen, that is not equal to a 14-day quarantine, so it’s basically ... kind of a compromise between having an open border and a tourist industry and a business industry and public health optimal safety.”
She added that the team wanted to help people understand that they were on a “mobile quarantine” if they arrived from overseas and “that you are not really free to socialise and roam throughout the island in small spaces with large crowds, without masks ... that’s not safe”.
Dr Peek-Ball, who grew up in Florida and Ohio, said that she had expected to spend the months before her retirement “wrapping up all the projects that were under way”.
They included the Steps to a Well Bermuda survey launched last year as a follow-up to a similar study published in 2014 and a health workforce planning project. But Dr Peek-Ball said: “That has not been able to happen.”
Her career in Bermuda started when she and her Bermudian husband, Anthony Ball, moved here in 1989 with their daughters, Chloe, now 36, and Kelsey, 31, after Dr Peek-Ball completed her family practice residency near Philadelphia.
She worked in a private practice on Victoria Street in Hamilton, next to the health centre.
Dr Peek-Ball “wandered over” to the health department on a lunch break and was attracted by the atmosphere as well as the buzz of a team environment.
She asked John Cann, then the CMO, if there was a place for her in public health and took up a post in maternal health and family planning in January 1991.
Dr Peek-Ball became the senior medical officer in 2009 and was mentored by Dr Cann before she took on the role of CMO in 2013.
She said: “It has really been just the most wonderful career.”
She explained that she loved the social justice foundation of public health and the sense that there should be equality and equity, as well as the need for collaboration.
Dr Peek-Ball hailed the “level of comfort” that the island’s residents had with each other despite their different backgrounds.
But she said: “The backdrop of the world’s reality over the past several months has not been lost on Bermuda.
“We have, in many ways, a society that’s much more egalitarian and democratic than others, but Bermuda obviously is not a paradise.
“We feel for other communities. I think the vision of what has been happening in North America with regard to some of its racial tensions, we draw parallels to our own lives.
“We are all affected by injustice or affected by what seems to be inequality, whether it be socioeconomic inequality, education inequality, we’re impacted by these things and they do affect us here in Bermuda and they are part of our own reality.”
She highlighted that the coronavirus pandemic had also brought social, financial and mental health problems that could have a major effect on public welfare.
Dr Peek-Ball added: “We are going to be living with that inequality in the world for a long time and we’re going to need to find ways to level the playing field.”
She said: “The wonderful thing about public health is it recognises that health is not just determined by the medical care that you can get but is, before that, determined by social factors, your education, your housing, your access to healthcare and many other aspects of your family structure, your community around you.
“All of that is public health and all of that in the pandemic has been brought to everyone’s attention as needing all of our attention.“
Dr Peek-Ball added that she would miss her colleagues — an “intimate family” to her.
She added that her successor, Ayoola Oyinloye, was “fantastic”.
Dr Peek-Ball said that the crisis had not left her a lot of time to plan her retirement.
But she added she looked forward to “finding more creative ways to contribute to society”.
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