May 17 2011
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Advancing Partnerships, Innovation to Improve Public Health: A Q&A with Joseph Kimbrell, National Network of Public Health Institutes

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Public health institutes are nonprofit entities that serve as partners and conveners to improve population-level health outcomes and help to foster innovations in the public health system. Among their many roles, the institutes can leverage resources and bring multiple stakeholders—state and local health departments and academic, community and foundation partners—to the table. They also help to teach and train the public health workforce and health care providers, and provide research and evaluation services, and can play a unique role educating policy-makers on health issues and can help promote policy change.

This week the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) is holding its 10th Annual Conference in New Orleans. This year’s theme is "Ten Years of Innovations in Public Health, A Lifetime of Healthier Communities.” NewPublic Health spoke with Joseph Kimbrell, M.A., L.C.S.W., chief executive officer of both NNPHI and of the Louisiana Public Health Institute, about key contributions the organization has made to public health innovation and service delivery.

NPH: Tell us about some key projects public health institutes are working on.

Kimbrell: The public health institute in Georgia has done a lot of work educating legislators about population health policies. And in California the institute has been innovative in approaches to addressing obesity from a nutrition/physical activity perspective. For example;

  • An organization called Dialogue4Health is being funded by the Institute to demonstrate the utility of web-based technology in the development of policies to support active living and healthy eating in California.
  • California Project LEAN (Leaders Encouraging Activity and Nutrition) (CPL), of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), provides technical assistance to communities seeking to improve school food and physical activity environments. CPL contributes to the development of statewide school nutrition and PA policy agenda and educates key organizations.

NPH:Not all states have a Public Health Institute. How do you explain the value for establishing an institute in a new state or a new region?

Kimbrell: The value is really in creating a mechanism to be able to address population health from a public-private partnership perspective-and to do that in a way that it can be done efficiently. And I think that’s why people seek us out to work with them on a variety of initiatives. So that they’re bringing that multi-sector partnership together in a way that many traditional organizations find more difficult to do. We also have the nimbleness of being able to hire and contract and implement in a timely way.

NPH:What is some of the work the institutes have done around evidence-based practices?

Kimbrell: A number of institutes have done public health impact assessments. Georgia has had a great deal of experience in doing HIAs-a number of staff from the Public Health Institute have been trained in the process, and we’re working with the Health Impact Project (a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts) to do more training, so that we have more folks throughout the country who understand and can implement that process in their communities.

Preparation for national public health accreditation is [another] good example. NNPHI managed a learning collaborative funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation around quality improvement that would help promote accreditation. That involved sixteen states throughout the country. These were the early adaptors that were laying the ground work for being able to have an accredited public health organization. And they did that with an emphasis on quality improvement-how they function as an organization, how did their quality improve? So, it was also about organizational change and changing culture in order to have a quality improvement culture-and that I think has had an enormous impact on the participants as well as the national movement.

We feel like that program created a learning community that will continue over time to learn from each other on best and promising practices about state and local health department accreditation.

NPH: Do you have a story about a public health institute collaboration that has resulted in improved outcomes?

Kimbrell: In Louisiana, we’ve enlisted the musician community as key partners in promoting smoke-free music venues which are predominately in many bars in the state. That’s been extraordinarily successful in creating numerous smoke-free music environments, particularly in the metropolitan New Orleans area.

Read previous NewPublicHealth.org Q&As with newsmakers and difference makers in public health.

Tags: Public health, Accreditation, Health Impact Assessment, NNPHI, Public Health Departments, Q&A