Jul 22 2011
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Public Health Faces: NACCHO Attendees

Close to 1,000 public health figures, local health department staff, partners and stakeholders gathered in Hartford this week for the 2011 NACCHO conference. NewPublicHealth stopped just a few to ask them their thoughts on public health, how their departments are succeeding, and more.

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Rita Kornblum

Hartford Department of Health and Human Services

What's the best session you've attended so far?

Where do we start? Tackling the root causes of inequity. I thought the speakers were very encouraging and provided interesting ideas on how to motivate public health professionals to deal with this important issue.

What's unique about your health department?

What’s unique about my department is that we’re very diverse. We have professionals that come from a variety of backgrounds and speak several languages, which makes it easier for us to service our client population. We’re also very open to new ideas and new programs. We’re very innovative.

Who are you working with outside of your public health department in your community to achieve your goals?

A number of the neighborhood organizations, a number of other partner agencies that share a similar concern for issues such as homelessness, who are really addressing the social determinants of health. We’re trying to figure out the best way to work with community-based organizations.

If prizes were given out for health departments, what would yours win for?

I’d say starting the campaign that we call Healthy Hartford. This campaign actually did receive an award, but I think it was very innovative and addressed needs throughout the community. We realized there was a great need for health education at different levels so we started a number of events – healthy women, healthy men, healthy children, health community and healthy employees – all geared toward connecting residents with resources for health.

What will your health department look like 5 years from now?

We’ll definitely have a new health director, for one. We will be much further along in our struggle for health equity. We will have a lot more resources to implement a number of the programs that are on hold right now. There are so many, but the first program I’d bring back is along the lines of emergency preparedness.

What changes have taken place recently, or do you expect to take place, at your health department, and what assistance could NACCHO provide over the next year that would best help you in your work?

We started to actually evaluate much more closely all of our programs. I don’t know if NACCHO would do this, but we’re really interested in starting to publish much more of our work. We’re also hoping to start going through the accreditation process, but we’re totally new to this, so maybe NACCHO could offer some assistance with that.

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Terron Jones, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator

Bridgeport, Conn., Health Department

What's the best session you've attended so far?

Probably one about emergency preparedness, and having a database for emergency preparedness within the school system. If there's any emergency within the school or pertaining to a particular student then it's communicated with the local health department.

What's a success story that's taken place in your department recently?

We just completed our community health assessment last year--Bridgeport CARES. We went throughout the entire city and did door-to-door surveys to see how people indicated their health. It was an 83 question survey that asked about everything from smoking to how safe do they feel walking through their neighborhood.

If prizes were given out for health departments, what would yours win for?

Perseverance. We still serve our community as best as we can, and the community still gets what they need from us--and we don't hang our heads and make excuses. We just get things done.

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Nathan Luedke

Marquette County Health Department

What's the best session you've attended so far?

The keynote speakers were probably the high note that they usually are. Session-wise, I’d say the Cross-Jurisdictional Sharing of Services: Untapped Potential or Achilles’ Heel?

Given recent LHD budget and staff cuts, what strategies have worked in the past, or are you considering now, to deal with emergencies—for example, natural disasters and flu and food-borne illness outbreaks?

That’s my largest source of revenue from federal and state aid, so using that funding to build partnerships while I can. In the midst of cuts, I’ve maintained staff in a different way. Instead of cutting whole positions, I’ll cut pieces of positions so that during an emergency, I still have enough staff.

What's unique about your health department?

We’re a very rural area, and we have a good physical environment so we’ve focused a lot of energy on the outdoor culture to improve physical activity. It’s actually our central focus. We have an event that teaches people how to garden, where hiking trails are, public land they can use. It also teaches environmental concepts. We also did a health impact assessment on the development of trail infrastructure.

Who are you working with outside of your public health department in your community to achieve your goals?

Being small, we’re really limited on partners, so it’s often the usual suspects like other agencies, schools, human services. We have one large business in the community so they’re a member of our coalition. We have a lot of structure built out of the coalition that is community-based – individuals making things happen, but we’re behind the scenes setting up the strategy, making sure it’s evidence-based, and making sure initiatives are sustainable.

What’s been a big success for you recently – and what’s been a big challenge?

We shifted our maternal and child health systems to formally supporting one of those community structures. Before we were doing it as part of coalition work, but this is the first time it’s directly funded. Our entire state has shifted to a systems approach to MCH. Our model is very grassroots where we’re responding in real time. Parents make up the group, and their focus tends to be children. It’s true support at the community level. Our goal is to some extent to be invisible, in our area where government isn’t as popular. I feel really good about that, that it’s actually happening. It’s something I’ve been wanting to put in place for years – putting progressive ideas into conservative structures.

As for challenges, is it cliché to say funding? Just being limited, not being able to connect all the things that are possible, and not having the staff to do what could be done. And the political implications as well. If you turn on the TV, you’ll see our state is in a struggle that’s more maintaining what we have instead of expanding and making progress, which I’m sure is not unique to us.

What changes have taken place recently, or do you expect to take place, at your health department, and what assistance could NACCHO provide over the next year that would best help you in your work?

Right now it’s mostly political. I’m our SACCHO president, and we had recent political issues surrounding community transformation grant. I had to go to NACCHO for support on that. I think right now, I actually heard someone else had a similar issue, so I think that would be a strong role for NACCHO, and a role that they’ve played well.

Tags: NACCHO, Public and Community Health