Category Archives: Public Health Departments
With just 83 days to go until health insurance marketplaces open up to allow otherwise uninsured Americans to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), NACCHO Annual has a good number of plenary and other sessions focused on the role of public health in implementing the law.
>>Read more NewPublicHealth coverage of NACCHO Annual.
In his address to the 1,000 plus attendees at this year’s NACCHO conference, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, talked about what local health departments can do to support ACA. “This is an all hands on deck situation,” said Frieden. “We want to do a lot with improving quality of care, but first we’ve got to get people signed up.”
Frieden ticked off actions that local health departments can take to help support enrollment, including:
- Provide resources to the community on getting insured & the benefits of being insured, including free preventive care.
- Educate every resident served by the department, such as immunization, tuberculosis and STD clinic patients, on how they can enroll.
- Educate every organization that the health departments connects with, such as schools, courts and businesses, on how stakeholders can enroll.
NewPublicHealth is on the ground this week in Dallas at NACCHO Annual, the yearly meeting of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The meeting theme this year is “Public Health by the Numbers” as city and county health departments face increased pressure for limited resources; an increased focus on both new and traditional public health roles; and government accountability and effectiveness.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Robert Pestronk, NACCHO’s executive director, in advance of the conference.
>> Be sure to follow our NACCHO conference coverage all week long, including stories from key sessions and interviews with speakers and thought leaders.
NewPublicHealth: What are the key issues at this year’s NACCHO conference?
Robert Pestronk: We’re focused on a conference theme of public health by the numbers because the availability and use of data is integral to the performance and operations of local health departments. The use of data and metrics is important for quality improvement in health departments, and for the development and communication of messages about health status and disease status within local communities.
A couple of other things that are new for this year’s annual meeting is that we’re recognizing the role that large cities and metropolitan areas play in modeling and demonstrating public health policy and governmental public health practice work. We have a couple of sessions with presenters from big cities to talk about the work they’re doing. And because the Affordable Care Act is influencing the work and funding and future for local health departments, there are sessions to help local health departments consider the effects from the law. We’ve also got a plenary session on reducing health disparities, which is a line of work that is very important to NACCHO. In fact, NACCHO’s work in this area has stimulated work in other parts of the governmental public health structure at the state and federal level.
NPH: What is the role that local health departments will play when it comes to implementing the Affordable Care Act?
Pestronk: I think that the specific role that local health departments play, like in most situations, will depend upon the kinds of assets that are available in a local community and the extent to which their state is implementing provisions of the law. Local health departments can be helpful informing people about the start of enrollment and helping people understand where they can go to enroll. Part of what NACCHO has been doing over the past year is to share with local health departments the kinds of opportunities that are available for implementing and educating about the health law.
A new report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and produced by the University of Michigan Center of Excellence in Public Health Workforce Studies offers—for the first time ever—a comprehensive assessment of the state of nursing and nurses in state and local health departments. Enumeration and Characterization of the Public Health Nurse Workforce: Findings of the 2012 Public Health Nurse Workforce Surveys looked at—among other things—size, composition, educational background experience, retirement intention, job function and job satisfaction of nurses.
RWJF recently spoke with Paul Kuehnert, MS, RN, CPNP, team director of Public Health at RWJF, and an alumnus of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program, to discuss the report.
Among the report’s findings is that while public health nurses report high levels of job satisfaction, they’re also concerned with issues such as job stability, compensation and the lack of opportunities for advancement. It also found that about 40 percent of public health departments have “a great deal of difficulty” hiring nurses.
“It should be a high priority to address gaps and take steps to strengthen the public health nursing workforce,” said Pamela G. Russo, MD, MPH, RWJF senior program officer. “Public health nurses are likely to need training to keep pace with the changes as health care reform is implemented and public health agencies focus more on population health. The size, makeup, and preparation of the public health nursing workforce greatly affect the ability of agencies to protect and improve the health of people in their jurisdictions.”
As scholars together at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, public health researchers Kimberley Roussin Isett, PhD, and Miriam Laugesen, PhD, watched major policy changes unfold across the city over the past several years. They decided to look at New York City as a model for improving public health that other cities could replicate. “Things were happening in New York City rapidly, and in a health-focused way that really not seen before,” says Isett. Since then, other cities across the country have enacted similar, comprehensive smoke-free policies. Voluntary calorie postings on restaurant menus were also integrated as a requirement in the Affordable Care Act. The researchers decided to look at New York City as a model for improving public health that other cities could replicate. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Drs. Isett and Laugesen about their research. Dr. Isett recently took a new position as an Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, and Dr. Laugesen is an Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at Mailman and a former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar.
NewPublicHealth: Because of its large budget and powerful public leaders, New York City isn’t always seen as a model for other, particularly smaller, health departments. But your work shows some of their efforts to be important, maybe critical for other departments to study and replicate. How did you come to that conclusion?
Miriam Laugesen: In our research, one theme that kept coming across again and again was the scientific basis—the amount of research and data—that the Bloomberg administration and staff had collected to justify and design their policies. That was a very big component, we thought, of many of their policies and that New York City had many innovative, interesting examples of how policymakers can base their policies on evidence.
The Three Rivers district health department in Owenton, Kentucky was one of three health departments in that state and eleven in the country to receive national public health accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board. NewPublicHealth has been speaking with directors from accredited health departments about the value of the credential; how it can change their operations and outcomes; and what they’d like to share with departments considering applying for the credential. We recently spoke with Georgia Heise, DrPH, Three Rivers’ health director and a vice president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, about the benefits she sees from both the application process and the new status accreditation confers.
NewPublicHealth: What has the reaction been from community members and policymakers to the news that you’re now accredited?
Georgia Heise: It has been wonderful. Our health department has talked about accreditation from the day we started working on it, so people have been waiting to see what the decision was going to be. We’ve gotten flowers, cards, letters, and emails and there have been celebrations hosted by us and by others. And we did get some attention from policymakers, which was wonderful.
We have, for the past three years now, introduced into the Kentucky legislative process a bill that would require health departments in Kentucky to be accredited by 2020. We haven’t got that bill approved yet, but we continue to work on it and we think we will eventually. But that effort means that the legislators are familiar with the concept of accreditation. While maybe they haven’t paid that much attention to it before, they’re paying more attention now because Kentucky had three health departments receive accreditation in the first round and that’s gotten some attention statewide.
NPH: In terms of the process, what has been harder than you thought and what was easier
NewPublicHealth is speaking with directors of several health departments who recently were accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board. Eleven health departments received the credential so far. We recently spoke with Mary Selecky, director of the Washington State health department, one of the first two state health agencies receive national accreditation status. Ms. Selecky recently announced her plans to retire from the health department.
>>Also read our interview with Terry Cline, health commissioner of Oklahoma, which also was recently accredited by PHAB.
NPH: How do you think accreditation will improve delivery of public health services and care in Washington State? Now that the health department is accredited, do you feel as though you are leaving the department in even better shape than it was?
Mary Selecky: Accreditation is really a quality improvement tool, and the standards that have been set by the Public Health Accreditation Board force you to examine whether you have the right processes in place for continuous, sustained quality improvement. And if you have found that you are not quite up to par in an area, then the processes help you ask what you will do to improve your performance in that area? The process helps you increase your performance, your effectiveness, and your accountability.
Public health touches people every single day—everybody in the state, from the moment they get up until they go to bed at night and even while they’re sleeping. This credential shows us that we have effective programs and measures in place to meet the needs of our communities. Drinking water systems are a good example. We regulate 16,000 drinking water systems, and I have a lot of drinking water engineers who are out in communities checking on water systems. I have to know that they’ve got a common set of operating procedures to assure the public that we’re looking out for their interests and when they turn on their tap from a municipal water system, that the water’s safe to drink. You can only do that when you have some procedures in place and that goes for the engineers, for laboratories or programs to make sure they are operating well in the community. Accreditation touches every part of the department.
NPH: How will you be promoting and explaining accreditation to policymakers?
During opening remarks at this year’s Keeneland Conference, hosted by the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR) based at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Professor Douglas Scutchfield, director of the Center, proudly announced that three of the first health departments to be accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) earlier this year were in Kentucky. Accreditation had its own track during the conference scientific sessions, including a presentation from Jessica Kronstadt, MPP, PHAB’s director of research and evaluation.
NewPublicHealth caught up with Kronstadt to talk about her presentation on some very early findings from an internal evaluation of the accreditation process.
>>Read more on national public health department accreditation.
NewPublicHealth: What information is PHAB seeking to gain from an evaluation of the accreditation process?
Jessica Kronstadt: Just as we’re asking health departments to engage in quality improvement, PHAB is very much committed to engaging in quality improvement of the accreditation program. So these evaluation efforts will really help us understand what is working well in our accreditation program, and what the experience was like from the perspective of the health departments and the site visitors. This evaluation will allow us to continue to improve the accreditation process.
The last session of the Keeneland Conference focused on translation and dissemination of public health systems and services research, with the critical goal of more efficient and effective delivery of public health services and improving population health. NewPublicHealth spoke with Ross Brownson, PhD, of the Prevention Research Center at Washington University in St. Louis. Dr. Brownson has received funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore evidence-based decision making at local health departments.
NewPublicHealth: How far back does evidence-based public health go?
Ross Brownson: The formal underpinnings of evidence-based public health were developed in the late 1990s, so at least the formal literature has been around for probably about 15 years. Of course, research on effective interventions has been around for many more decades. The newer field of public health services and systems research is much newer, just within the last five years or so, and these different bodies of research are now converging.
The early research focused a lot on identifying evidence-based interventions. The newer research is more on the process of evidence-based public health—regardless of the intervention, how do you develop and implement an evidence-based health department?
We identified five domains that are really important:
- leadership of the agency;
- ability to develop, formalize and maintain good partnerships within the community;
- workforce training and development;
- focus on organizational climate and culture; and
- effective financial and budgeting processes.
The ultimate goal is to make the population healthier and we know that the way to improve the overall health of the public is largely through state and local governmental public health. To reach that ultimate goal you want to have the most effective health department possible and also make the most efficient use of resources. We’re always in a time of tight resources, but probably now more than ever. That calls on us to be as effective and efficient as we can be in the delivery of public health services.
NPH: How will you disseminate these best practices and this evidence base to state and local public health officials?
Today’s plenary speaker at the 2013 Keeneland Conference is William Roper, MD, MPH, dean of the school of medicine, vice chancellor for medical affairs and CEO of the UNC Health Care System at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Earlier in his career, Dr. Roper was senior vice president of Prudential HealthCare, president of the Prudential Center for Health Care Research, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and administrator of the Health Care Financing System, the precursor to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Roper on his way to the Keeneland Conference about the drive to better use data, instead of anecdotes and personal beliefs, to drive decision-making.
NewPublicHealth: What were some of the early efforts you were involved in that set the stage for the field of public health services and systems research we know today?
Dr. Roper: I didn’t do this by myself; I did it with a lot of other people, but one of the critical early efforts was the publication of Medicare mortality information on all American hospitals beginning in 1986 and continuing for a number of years thereafter. Another was creation of the Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research in 1989, which has since been renamed the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Another was the launching of the Prevention Effectiveness Initiative at CDC in the early 90s. And then subsequently, work that I’ve done at the University of North Carolina, first at the School of Public Health and then at the School of Medicine using the tools of health services research broadly in health care and in public health.
NPH: What are some of the fruits of those efforts?
A constant theme of this year’s Keeneland Conference is the emergence of the discipline of public health systems and services research (PHSSR) from strict research and evaluation to results that are beginning to be used by public health departments and agencies. So who better a dinner speaker than Joe Selby, MD, MPH, head of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), authorized by Congress under the Affordable Care Act. PCORI’s role is to conduct research and provide information about the best available evidence to help patients and health care providers make more informed decisions. The Institute's goals include:
- Substantially increase the quantity, quality, and timeliness of useful, trustworthy information available to support health decisions.
- Speed the implementation of patient-centered knowledge into practice.
- Influence clinical and health care research funded by others to be more patient-centered.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Selby about PCORI’s work so far and the critical goal of disseminating scientific research to improve health.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about your talk at the Keeneland Conference.
Dr. Selby: I’ll start by talking about the historical trends that led to PCORI’s formation. I think that these trends are bringing what we do, which is called comparative clinical effectiveness research, together with quality improvement and with public health systems and services research. There is a convergence of interests between what the conference attendees do as public health practitioners and public health researchers and systems-based researchers and what the quality improvement world is doing and what we’re trying to do at PCORI. There are many common bonds and a new appreciation for that.
It has suddenly dawned on everyone that you’ve got to put your patients or, in the case of public health, your communities, at the center of the research activity. And I know that in the public health world, they are involving communities and patients within communities and clients and consumers in their planning and intervention activities. That is one of the bonds that ties us together and that leads to enhanced productivity whether we’re doing clinical research like PCORI does, whether we’re doing quality improvement, or whether we’re doing public health.