Public Health Institutes: Lessons Learned
The National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) Annual Conference in New Orleans, La., concluded late last month. Now that the conference materials and presentations are available for download, we caught up with some of the attendees and NNPHI leaders to get their thoughts on conference highlights.
Ellen Rautenberg, President and CEO, Public Health Solutions and NNPHI Board Chair:
“Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, a keynote speaker discussed activities Institutes are currently doing at the intersection of public health and primary care and provided her thoughts as to how Institutes might expand on these. She felt that Institutes were perfectly poised to keep the attention of policy makers on population health as they address cost and quality of the health care system.”
Bob St. Peter, President and CEO, Kansas Health Institute:
“It was a great conference. NNPHI walked the talk of multi-sectorial partnership. What other public health conference could you go to where the three keynote speakers are from the New York Academy of Medicine, the Federal Reserve Bank and AcademyHealth? Thinking beyond our traditional partners in public health is becoming increasingly important as our health system hopefully moves to one that is more accountable and more effective.”
NewPublicHealth also spoke with Christopher Kinabrew, MPH, MSW, director of Government and External Affairs for NNPHI to capture conference themes and highlights of the hallway conversations.
NewPublicHealth: What were some of the themes you heard in conversations by attendees?
Christopher Kinabrew: In terms of some of the themes that came through, one important one was that now more than ever, neutral conveners are needed at the state and local level for so many different initiatives. This is critical now in areas such as building bridges between health care and public health. That came through in the keynote from Jo Ivey Boufford and the discussion on the Institute of Medicine report.
There’s also this concept of “backbone organizations.” For many of these initiatives, it’s not a one-time thing. For community health assessments, for example—there’s the assessment itself, but then after that there’s a whole community improvement process. There needs to be some accountability and structure for that to happen. More and more we’re seeing the need for a backbone organization to continue that work. In some cases it’s the public health institute, and in other cases it’s an organization that spun off. I heard in some of the hallway conversations, some examples in the area of health information exchange where the public health institute incubated the exchange, but then in the end it became its own separate entity.
NPH: What other themes did you hear?
Christopher Kinabrew: Health reform was also a big theme for us at the meeting. There were so many comments that regardless of the outcome, “the genie’s out of the bottle.” These changes are happening. The decision will have an impact, but in many of these initiatives the conversation has already changed, so prevention is going to move forward regardless.
Another theme was about funding being consistently under attack. There was a lot of conversation about public health institutes being a hub or a nexus for alternative funding mechanisms. We’ve known for a while that the institutes are good at leveraging federal funding, private foundation funding, and contracts with state and local funding health departments—they’re able to do some things that perhaps other organizations can’t do because of that funding mix. David Erickson from the Federal Reserve also got people thinking about even more alternative financing and funding mechanisms for public health, in terms of working with community development financial institutions.
NPH: From what you learned at the meeting and during David Erickson’s presentation, what are some of the ways public health institutes, health departments and community development institutions can work together?
Christopher Kinabrew: It’s really about putting the social determinants of health into action. He made the comment that community development folks might need to change their language and terminology to say “we’re in the health business.” In terms of the evaluation and measurement of these investments, public health partners could bring the type of robust evaluation that goes on in the health sector to the table for community development. There was a lot of interest in increasing capacity across our membership in health impact assessments. That’s an areas where we could all work together to put some health measures in community development investments and boost the evaluation capacity. That’s an area where our members do tend to be really strong.
>>Read more on community development work to improve public health.
It’s not new to see our members working across sectors, but to me in this conference there was a marked difference in really working upstream across sectors to advance a health in all policies approach. This is something that’s talked about in the National Prevention Strategy. We held a breakout on health in all policies around the intersection of agriculture, food systems and public health. That session was packed.
NPH: You moderated the Town Hall on community health assessment. What came out of this discussion?
>>Read up on community health assessment as part of community benefit initiatives.
Christopher Kinabrew: We featured two national organizations—The Hilltop Institute and United Way Worldwide. We know from our members that first and foremost they want to share what they do and are looking for best practices. Martha Somerville, director of Hilltop’s Hospital Community Benefit program, laid the groundwork on community benefit responsibilities for nonprofit hospitals and for how public health institutes could facilitate meaningful collaboration between hospitals, health departments and community-based organizations. In her presentation and throughout all of the presentations, there was a theme that it’s not just about the needs assessment—it’s also about the community health improvement planning and the structure for implementing those strategies.
From Sandra Serna Smith at the United Way, we heard about their massive coverage and the strength of their network, in terms of covering 95 percent of the population. What was also interesting was learning about the United Way’s three pillars—education, income and health. They made the point that if any one of these isn’t strong, the rest fall. That really resonates well with our members.
We had Kevin Barnett from the Public Health Institute moderating the session. That was a great opportunity because he’s a content expert in community benefit and community health assessment. Two of our members also shared their experiences from the ground—the Texas Health Institute, which brought one of the local public health departments they worked with, and they told the story of how they worked together. Laurie Call from the Illinois Public Health Institute compared and contrasted her experience with two different counties. All of these examples included robust partnerships with public health institutes, health departments and hospitals, and United Ways were often involved sometimes as a funder but also as a partner in implementation.
An interesting question from the audience was, what sector didn’t you include in the process that you would have looking back? Both local panelists mentioned transportation. Looking ahead, that’s maybe a key sector we want to involve next year.
>>Read the rest of our NNPHI Annual Conference coverage.