Mar 29 2012
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County Health Rankings 2012: NewPublicHealth Q&A with David Altman

file David Altman, chair of the County Health Roadmaps National Advisory Board

The 2012 County Health Rankings will be released on April 3, 2012. For the third year in a row, counties will receive a snapshot of how healthy their residents are by comparing their overall health and the factors that influence their health with other counties in their state. The Rankings, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, allow communities to see, county by county, where they are doing well and where they need to improve. The County Health Rankings Roadmaps to Health project shows what we can do to create healthier places to live, learn, work and play.

In advance of the new Rankings release, NewPublicHealth spoke with David Altman, PhD, chair of the County Health Roadmaps National Advisory Board, and Vice President of Research, Innovation, and Product Development at the Center for Creative Leadership.

>>NewPublicHealth will be covering the County Health Rankings release, and telling the stories of groups using the Rankings to improve the health of their communities. Follow the series.

NewPublicHealth:What are the key tasks of the advisory board?

David Altman: We get together a couple of times a year and serve as a sounding board.We offer ideas, serve as ambassadors and help make connections to stakeholders.

NPH: How important are partnerships to the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program?

David Altman: Without collaboration and partnerships, this program cannot be successful. We’re talking about community change, not simply putting a new program in place. That’s why the program resources stress partnerships and collaborations.

NPH: How do you engage diverse partners in using the County Health Rankings?

David Altman: The basic assumption is that by sharing county-specific data with stakeholders in these communities, they can find a connection to the data that is meaningful to them, and then, with assistance, take action on that data. The County Health Rankings provide data at levels people can connect to, but if we’re just looking at the data, that won’t result in any improvement. So the next step for a community is to ask, “Where do we need to improve, and what actions are we going to take?” And it can’t be just the traditional health and health care constituents that get involved.

NPH: What are stumbling blocks you’d like to see communities avoid?

David Altman: All too often communities take action, but it’s directed at the wrong things. What we have in this case, with the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, is that you’re leading with data, and not just national data. National data does not stimulate local action. Partnerships grow out of using local data because they have very clear objectives to focus on. That is unique and part of the great value of these programs.

NPH: How does the County Health Roadmaps project help to galvanize partners?

David Altman: A map provides a way to get from point A to point B. The journey begins with Rankings and then you have this aspirational goal to improve health. The Roadmaps really provide a pathway to get to where you want to be, which is better health at the community level. Roadmaps resources include partnership grants, a very useful website, stories and examples from other communities and the opportunity to consult with Roadmaps staff. I think the Roadmaps project is illustrative of the resources the Foundation is putting into the effort to close the gap between having knowledge about a challenge and making headway in improving health.

NPH: What’s ahead?

David Altman: RWJF recently funded an outside group to do some evaluation work, and we’ll have more information in six to twelve months. The advisory group will look at interim measures to be sure the model is being implemented as planned. And if metrics indicate the goals aren’t being met, program staff can look to adjust and assess whether we’re on track to reach the overarching goals of the program.

Tags: Community Health, County Health Rankings, Healthy communities, Prevention, Public Health Departments, Public-private partnerships, Q&A, Social determinants of health