Public Health staff from across the district gathered together in Queenstown this month to say a very special farewell to their long-time colleague Dr Derek Bell. Dr Bell, who is a Queenstown-based Medical Officer of Health for Otago and Southland, is retiring from his position after having enjoyed a long, varied and fascinating career in Public Health.
“I’ve been privileged to have had the role of a medic in a public health department,” says Dr Bell who began his health career as a GP initially, but after a stint on the Wakatipu Health Committee says his eyes were “opened to the world of public health and its many unique challenges”.
Dr Bell spent time working for the Southern District Health Board as a Strategic Advisor in its very early days and also worked as the National Director of Training for the College of Public Health Medicine. He took on the position of Medical Officer of Health for Queenstown in 1998 and has held that role since.
Over the last 19 years Dr Bell has played a pivotal role in leading the DHB’s response to many major public health challenges, including the SARS outbreak, the Pertussis epidemics of 2001 and 2005, Meningococcal outbreaks, the dramatic floods of Wanaka and Queenstown in 1999 and the Bird Flu epidemic to name but a few. He has also taken a driving seat when it comes to establishing protocols around tourism health issues such as border control and dealing with cruise ship and bus tour outbreaks that have been shared nationally.
Dr Bell will be retiring from mid-April and will remain based in Arrowtown, although he will be spending a lot of time in the North Island working on a conservation/ecological project. Public Health South staff presented Derek with a carved mauri kohatu (touch stone) from the local area as a recognition of the enormous contribution he has personally made to public health over many years. In his speech Dr Bell acknowledged, “The fantastic team work displayed by my public health colleagues over the years, who are more than happy to swap disciplines, and all pitch in when the need arises.”
Speaking about Dr Bell’s retirement, Marion Poore, Medical Officer of Health for Public Health South at Southern DHB said, “From his base in Queenstown, Derek has observed massive growth in the area and has had to respond to various high-profile public health issues in the resort and surrounds. His keen interest in environmental issues meant he took a “big picture” perspective to work and life in general. His strong working relationships with all staff, and other organisations were invaluable in ensuring effective responses to serious outbreaks of disease and developing good systems and processes for working with others on a range of issues.”
Everyone at Public Health South and Southern District Health Board wish Derek all the best for an enjoyable retirement.