Still reeling from the mass murder attack that directly affected environmental health employees, San Bernardino County implemented on Monday a way to resume providing their crucial public service, while at the same time allowing staff to remain on leave.
The county turned to the state of California to take over interim management of the Division of Environmental Health Services, and the state in-turn brought in retirees and employees on loan from other jurisdications on a temporary, as-needed basis, until the staff members are ready to return.
"This has affected all of them very deeply," said David Wert, the county's public information officer. "The county wants to give them as much time as they need."
Staff members are welcome to return to their jobs when they feel ready, and counselors were present Monday in case any came in then. None did, according to Wert.
Division members had gathered for a holiday staff party on the morning of Dec. 2 when two attackers with assault rifles rushed inside and opened fire, killing 14 and wounding 17. The victims numbered more than one third of the division's entire workforce. Authorities identified the attackers as Syed Rizwan Farook, a five-year employee who had left the gathering and then returned with his wife Tashfeen Malik, both of whom were killed later during a shootout with law enforcement.
For their holiday gathering, the employees had gone to the conference center at the Inland Regional Center. The main environmental health services office is located three miles away in the county building on Arrowhead Avenue.
It was previously announced that the Regional Center will remain closed until after the new year.
The main environmental health office, which occupies nearly half the second floor of the county building, will also remain closed for the time being, Wert said.
Once all personal items have been removed, the county intends to overhaul the space completely. But if staff members still do not feel comfortable returning, Wert said the county will find new office space for them.
For the reopening of the division, temporary office space was set up in another county building two blocks away on Third Street.
Environmental Health Services is responsible for inspecting restaurants, school cafeterias, public swimming pools, and other locations to insure they are in compliance with health requirements.
Reopening will enable the division to "catch up," Wert said, expressing gratitude to neighboring Riverside County for loaning about 20 of its environmental health workers.
"Donations will be used to address the needs of people affected by the December 2 tragedy," according to the fund's mission statement.