Category Archives: Public Health Departments
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.
The sixth annual Keeneland Conference begins today in Lexington, Kentucky. Each year hundreds of public health researchers and practitioners meet to share research and translation strategies at the annual conference, is sponsored by the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, which is based at the University of Kentucky. This year’s keynote speakers include Paul Kuehnert, MS, RN, senior program officer and director for the Public Health team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Lisa Simpson, president and CEO of AcademyHealth; and Joe V. Selby, MD, MPH, the first executive director of the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute authorized by Congress.
In advance of the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Glen Mays, PHD, MPH, F. Douglas Scutchfield Endowed Professor of Health Services and Systems Research at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health. Mays is also the co-PI of the National Coordinating Center for PHSSR at the University of Kentucky, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
NewPublicHealth: What will be some of the key issues at the Keeneland conference this year, both from the plenary podiums and in hallway conversations?
Glen Mays: One area involves looking at the changing roles and responsibilities of health care organizations in the public health enterprise, especially the changing roles of hospitals in helping to deliver public health activities, in part because of new tax incentives for hospitals to be involved and to play a larger role in delivering community benefit services. We have a number of studies taking a look at that issue, as well as other elements of health care reform such as the accountable care organizations that hospitals are playing an important role in and that are part of new health delivery systems. The hospitals are playing roles and engaging public health activities as part of their health care delivery strategy. So there will be a number of studies looking at various angles of hospital and health care system involvement in public health delivery and the larger issue of integration of public health into new health care delivery strategies under health reform, which is a big area.
NPH: How much discussion do you expect about the Affordable Care Act?
Later today Lisa Simpson, MB, BCh, MPH, president and CEO of AcademyHealth, will moderate a “Washington Update” panel discussion at the sixth annual Keeneland Conference taking place this week in Lexington, Ky. The discussion will focus on issues to watch at the federal level and panelists include Paul Jarris, MD, MBA, Executive Director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of Trust for America's Health; and Robert Pestronk, MPH, Executive Director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Simpson ahead of the session.
NewPublicHealth: What will your “Washington Update” focus on?
Dr. Simpson: I have the good fortune of moderating a discussion with three important leaders from Washington—Jeff Levi, Paul Jarris and Bobby Pestronk—and we’ll be bringing an update about what is going on in Washington that affects the field of public health and public health services research (PHSR) specifically. We’re going to be talking about the general policy context and the conversation in Washington in terms of budget and priority and tradeoff, but also talking about how we think public health services research is informing the conversation and the kinds of questions that policymakers have.
NPH: How has public health services research evolved in the last few years in terms of informing the conversation?
Yesterday, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, released the 2013-17 Prevention Agenda: New York State’s Health Improvement Plan—a statewide, five-year plan to improve the health and quality of life for everyone who lives in New York State. The plan is a blueprint for local community action to improve health and address health disparities.
Dr. Shah was joined by New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, and representatives from leading health care and community organizations at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Manhattan. Among the other speakers were Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, president of The New York Academy of Medicine, and Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State.
>>Read a related Q&A with Commissioner Nirav Shah.
“We’ve all heard the adage—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Commissioner Shah. “We need to fundamentally change the way we think about achieving better health in our society.”
That fundamental shift toward prevention, said Dr. Shah, requires setting clear goals, promoting active collaborations, and identifying policies and strategies that create opportunities for everyone to live a healthy life.
The Prevention Agenda identifies five priority areas:
- Prevent chronic disease
- Promote healthy and safe environments
- Promote healthy women, infants and children
- Promote mental health and prevent substance abuse
- Prevent HIV, STDs, vaccine-preventable diseases, and healthcare-associated infections
A health improvement plan like the one released by the New York Department of Health is a critical prerequisite for public health department accreditation. Recently, the Public Health Accreditation Board awarded five-year accreditation to 11 public health departments. Those 11 are the first of hundreds currently preparing to become accredited, including New York state.
"Completing the accreditation application, which includes our Prevention Agenda 2013-17, provides the Department of Health a valuable opportunity to engage partners and community stakeholders in our ongoing efforts to improve public health, evaluate the effectiveness of our services and showcase our successes," Commissioner Shah said.