Do Your Part- Be Septic Smart!

One quarter of U.S. homes have septic systems. It’s important to maintain your system to protect your home, health, environment and property value. The Environmental Protection Agency offers many tips.

At VDH, the Division of Onsite Sewage and Water Services program protects public health and ground water quality through its wastewater program. Read more about the office.

Protect Your Pipes

Think at the Sink

National Preparedness Month – Week 2

Graphic shows an image of a beige color home with trees surrounding it and a red car in the driveway. Surrounding the image of the home is arrows pointed at different areas giving tips on how to keep each part of the home secure.

  1. Know basic home maintenance to protect your family and home.
  • Put smoke alarms on every level of your home, test them monthly, and replace them when they are 10 years old.
  • Protect your family by installing a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Have chimneys and vents cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional at least once a year to prevent home fires.
  • Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from your furnace, water heater, and other heat-generating equipment.
  1. Do you know how to turn off the gas in your home? Learn how to turn off utilities like natural gas in case you ever have a gas emergency in your home.
  2. Be prepared for a power outage by having enough food, water, batteries, flashlight & meds for all family members to last for at least 72 hours:
  3. Know basic First Aid, CPR and Fire Safety skills. Practice how to “Drop down onto your hands and knees. Cover your head and neck with your arms. Hold on to any sturdy covering until the shaking stops. Learn actions to save a life:


National Preparedness Month – Make A Plan

Make a Plan. Include your specific health and safety needs when creating your emergency plan.

Are you prepared? Your family may not be together if a disaster strikes. Establish a plan today to include where the family will meet during a disaster or an emergency.  To start developing a plan consider these 4 steps:

Step 1: Discuss the following questions before developing a plan.

Step 2: Consider specific needs in your household.  Consider the supplies and specific daily living needs for those your household.

  • Different ages
  • Dietary needs
  • Languages spoken
  • Pet or service animals
  • Disabilities or access and functional needs including devices and equipment

Step 3: Fill out a Family Emergency Plan.

Step 4: Practice your plan with your family/household.

Pfizer, Inc. Issues A Voluntary Nationwide Recall Of One Lot Of Children’s Advil® Suspension Bubble Gum Flavored 4 FL OZ Bottle

Pfizer Consumer Healthcare, a division of Pfizer Inc., is voluntarily recalling one lot of Children’s Advil® Suspension Bubble Gum Flavored 4 FL OZ Bottle because of customer complaints that the dosage cup provided is marked in teaspoons and the instructions on the label are described in milliliters (mL). Read more. 

Patients Come First – Dr. M. Norman Oliver

This episode of the Patients Come First podcast features an interview with Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver about his focus on population health, a mid-career decision to attend medical school in his 40s, his work treating Native people in a small Alaskan village, his role with the Commonwealth, and much more. Send questions, comments, or feedback to or contact us on Twitter ( using the hashtag #PatientsComeFirst.

Hajj in Saudi Arabia

The annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is among the largest mass gatherings in the world. In 2018, Hajj will take place from approximately August 19-24, 2018.

Because of the crowds, mass gatherings such as Hajj are associated with unique health risks. Before you go, you should visit a travel health specialist for advice, make sure you are up to date on all routine and recommended vaccines, and learn about other health and safety issues that could affect you during your trip.

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is one disease of special concern because it can cause severe respiratory disease and it has been found in Saudi Arabia and nearby countries. If you develop flu-like symptoms like fever, cough, and shortness of breath within 14 days after traveling, contact your doctor and mention your recent travel. Because the virus that causes MERS can spread by close contact, please call your healthcare provider before going to a doctor’s office, an urgent care facility or the emergency room so that they can make special arrangements to prevent the spread of germs to others. More information on MERS is available.


Weekly Message – August 6, 2018

Dear Colleagues

As I mentioned last week, the Deputy Commissioners, the Operations Directors, John Ringer (our Director of Strategic Planning), and myself recently held a leadership retreat. Our retreat focused on the functioning of the leadership team and working toward greater clarity on the direction of the agency.

As State Health Commissioner, I depend upon the team of Deputy Commissioners and Operations Directors. This team discusses the weekly activity of the agency, the strategic and programmatic direction of VDH, and fulfills a fiduciary responsibility as the financial stewards of the agency. I need their input, their counsel, and their decision-making authority to ensure the smooth functioning and well-being of VDH. I have asked that we establish a “Commissioner’s Leadership Team,” comprising the Deputy Commissioners and the Operations Directors. This Commissioner’s Leadership Team will take the place of the “Deputy Leadership Team.”

I noted last week, “Cohesive, behaviorally unified teams trust one another. They engage in unfiltered conflict and debate around ideas. They commit to decisions and action plans. They hold one another accountable to delivering against those plans. They focus on achieving results for the team. (See Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for a brilliant depiction of what constitutes a good team.) Here’s a cartoon, depicting the five dysfunctions and the reasons teams need to overcome them:

Inattention to results. Focus on delivering measurable results: collective and individual, accountability, feedback. Avoidance of accountability. To take accountability require prior commitment: 100% buy-in. Lack of Commitment. Commitment follows health conflict: hear all  disagreedecisionbuy-inone voice. Feat of conflict. Health conflict implies candid debate: trust to speak opinion without fear of retribution. Absence of Trust. Building Trust requires vulnerability: courage to risk.

Trust is a foundational behavior of well-functioning teams. As I explained last week, we did some work on further building trust among the senior leadership team. One of the tools that we used for this work was to develop a “Team Covenant” that put into written form the behaviors needed to ensure a highly reliable, well-functioning team. Here’s the covenant of the Commissioner’s Leadership Team:

VDH Commissioner’s Leadership Team Covenant

We will:

  1.  Come to CLT not as advocates for our own shops, but with VDH’s strategic goals foremost in mind.
  2. Assume positive intention and full trust.
  3. Speak up and share divergent views.
  4. Encourage constructive dissent.
  5. Pledge that, once we have made a decision, we will be unified and committed to the decision’s success.
  6. Communicate with respect and professionalism.
  7. We will always ensure we are very clear about “who, what, when” and assign ownership for follow up when we make a decision or decide to decide later.
  8. Innovate and challenge the status quo.
  9. Be clear on who has the appropriate decision rights.
  10. Have the courage to acknowledge when we fall short or break this Covenant, and will work with our Team members to get back in Covenant.

If you catch one of the deputies, an Ops Director, or myself acting in accordance with our covenant, let us know. Reinforce that behavior! Of course, we’re human beings; so, if you notice us breaking our covenant, give us a little nudge to help us get back on track. I hope other leadership teams in the agency will emulate us and develop covenants of their own. If we all start behaving in congruence with our values, VDH can go from being a good organization to a truly great one.

Have a great week!


(Pronouns: he, his, him)


Weekly Message July 30, 2018

Dear Colleagues:

The Deputy Leadership Team (DLT), Operations Directors, and John Ringer (our Director of Strategic Planning), met in a retreat on July 27 and 28. The focus of this day-and-a-half-long leadership retreat was to enhance the functioning of the team and to work toward greater clarity on the direction of the agency. Over the next several weeks, I’ll discuss the various issues we grappled with at the retreat and the results of that work.

Today, I’d like to tell you all that we spent a good deal of time exploring the characteristics of highly engaged and well-functioning teams. Cohesive, behaviorally unified teams trust one another. They engage in unfiltered conflict and debate around ideas. They commit to decisions and action plans. They hold one another accountable to delivering against those plans. They focus on achieving results for the team. (See Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for a brilliant depiction of what constitutes a good team.)

Trust is a foundational behavior of well-functioning teams. At the retreat, we did some work on further building trust among the DLT members and Ops Directors. Of course, building trust in any team occurs over time through shared experiences, multiple instances of proven follow-through, and developing an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of each team member. However, we used the retreat as a way to accelerate that process through some focused work. We learned a lot about each other’s personal histories. We identified the unique strengths we each bring to the team, as well as the things we each struggle with in advancing the work of the team. We also revisited the personality profile we each completed as part of the “Leadership Essentials” course that many of you have taken, as well. Understanding the behavioral preferences and personality styles of team members helps to build trust and team cohesion.

One of the lessons we reaffirmed in our retreat is the importance of aligning our behavior with the core values of the organization. The core values of VDH are accountability, communication, diversity, equity, excellence, integrity, respect, and stewardship. You can find these values listed and expanded upon in the VDH Code of Ethics, which I encourage you all to read. In a future “Weekly Message,” I’ll talk about some steps we took at the retreat to help us behave in a manner that is congruent with these values.

Meanwhile, the VDH senior leadership team is refreshed, rejuvenated, and re-energized following our retreat. We return to the central office hopeful about our ability to help you all be successful in your work and in the ability of VDH to play a central role in improving the health and well-being of the Commonwealth.


Have a great week!


(Pronouns: he, his, him)