NewPublicHealth Q&A: Raul Pino of the Hartford Department of Health

Jul 21, 2011, 1:30 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

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NACCHO Annual 2011, the annual meeting of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), is being held in Hartford, Connecticut. NewPublicHealth spoke with Raul Pino, interim director of the Hartford Department of Health, about the conference and the state of public health in Connecticut.

NewPublicHealth: Is Hartford excited to host the NACCHO meeting?

Raul Pino: Oh, we are super excited. We are not used to this kind of attention and to have public health officials from all over the nation come to our city is a big event.

NPH: We interviewed Robert Pestronk, NACCHO’s executive director, a couple of days ago, and he told us that Hartford is actually doing quite well – particularly in this era of budget cuts in public health departments. You’ve been able to announce some upcoming policies such as banning trans-fats and a restaurant scoring system. Given how difficult it is for so many health departments, how is it that you are achieving such successes and what lessons can other health department directors learn from you?

Raul Pino: We basically have involved politicians in the process and we show them how important health is for all aspects of life for our residents. We have also done a lot of work on the health disparities issues and access to health care. And actually, our budget may look flat in the sense that we did not get much of an increase from the year before but we added new positions to our staff – epidemiologists and public health nurses – which indicates what the priorities of our departments are. Even in these tough times, our city has a surplus.

NPH: What else have you done this year?

Raul Pino: For the first time, we have also engaged in a community assessment. We are doing one for health and we are doing one for behavioral health. We realized during the process of the community health assessment that… people tend to isolate mental health from general health which is, of course, a mistake. We worry that we may continue to make that mistake and we are now looking deeper into mental health issues and what the needs of our citizens are in that regard.

NPH: Is your community health needs assessment a part of the possibility of applying for public health accreditation?

Raul Pino: It wasn’t really initiated with that intention. It was initiated by the hospital. Every two to three years, they have to fulfill a commitment with the IRS regarding their non-profit status. One of the requirements is that they have to demonstrate needs in the community for their existence and how they support and address those needs. So they came to us and in the process we realized that we would be able to use the opportunity as part of a first step toward health department accreditation.

NPH: So you’ll be applying for accreditation?

Raul Pino: Yes. In September we will be applying for Public Health Accreditation.

NPH: What have you learned through the accreditation process?

Raul Pino: One thing we’ve learned is that disparities in the city are often based on neighborhoods. We have a general sense of what the needs are. But when you go into this process and you look at the health equity index, you realize that the standards are different from zip code to zip code depending on socio-economic status, access to transportation, or access to health and safe food.

NPH: What do you think will be the benefit of getting public health accreditation?

Raul Pino: The benefits will force us to develop standard operating procedures and to have all the institutional knowledge necessary. It will help us improve what we do. It will help transition us from where we are to higher standards of professionalism.

NPH: What else would you like NACCHO Annual attendees to know about the Hartford Department of Health?

Raul Pino: We have involved the community. We have conveyed our sense of commitment and we are here to help and to safeguard the health of our citizens. Instead of, ‘this is what we are going to do for your safety’ it’s, ‘what do you need us to do? What are the problems that we can address with the resources that we have?’ And then we can prioritize based on that.

>> Read Public Health and Community Benefit: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Abbey Cofsky, Program Officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.