By Robert Lucke
Heidi Bischoff sits in her office in the basement of the Hill County Courthouse, her glass of tea covered with plastic wrap.
"Every time someone walks across the floor upstairs, dust filters down on my desk," she said, laughing.
That's what happens when you work in the sanitarian's office in the Courthouse. Bischoff is a sanitarian. She works full time for Hill County and is contracted to Blaine County for two days a month to do inspections.
Bischoff got to be a sanitairan in a very unlikely way. A Chester native, she met her husband-to-be, Jason, when he was a nursing intern at the Chester hospital. He was transferred to work in the federal prison system in Lexington, Ky. The two moved there. Bischoff wanted to continue her education and got to know the chief sanitarian for the U.S. Public Health Service.
"I talked to him many times and it sounded like a good career," Bischoff said. "So I went to school at Eastern Kentucky University and ended up a sanitarian. I did my interning at the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Lexington. I had hoped that the job would be more environmental, but this is OK, too."
Kentucky was fine but it wasn't home, so when an Indian Health Service job opened up at Fort Belknap, the Bischoffs grabbed it, moved back to Montana in February of 1999 and Heidi was hired by Hill County.
The life of a Hill County sanitarian is always varied and never dull.
"I do all the inspections of everything from restaurants, bars, hotels, pools, schools, day care centers to even fair booths," Bischoff said. "I supervise activities at the Beaver Creek Reservoir dam and keep the accounts for the land fill and assist whenever possible with the health calls that come into the office.
When someone reports a dead cow in the creek, that is this office that does something about it."
Bischoff is very proud of the new Gold Star program that she initiated last year in both Blaine and Hill counties.
"The Gold Star program is an effort to encourage food purveyors to comply with Hill County Health Department and state regulations in Blaine and Hill counties," she said. "I am pleased with the response I have gotten with the program from the public. It is really motivating some of the purveyors' staffs and management to do a better job. The program is working well in both counties."
And both the Bischoffs are happy to be back in Montana. Heidi is the daughter of Rlynn and Karen Rockman of Chester. Jason is a Missoula native.
Heidi Bischoff likes her job and all its variations, but it does have its better days. She took no time at all to tell the very best parts of the job for her.
"I really work with great co-workers and I love helping the community," she said. "But the very best thing is that every day I never know what will happen or what to expect."
The job does have a down side.
"Lets see, how can I put this. The down side is dealing with people who at times seem unwilling to comply with good health standards that are put there to protect both them and the public," Bischoff said.
And then there are those unexpected calls.
"Like the time a woman called in and wanted to have topless waitresses in her restaurant," Bischoff said, laughing. "I told her as long as they were serving food they had to have clothes on. Not even tiny shoulder sweaters would work. Their breasts might get burned."
Just then someone upstairs walked across the floor, dust sifted down, the phone rang and Heidi Bischoff was off on another Health Department adventure.
Such is life in the basement of the Courthouse.