What to Expect at NACCHO 2011: A Q&A with Michael Caldwell

Jul 12, 2011, 4:47 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

file Michael Caldwell

NACCHO 2011, the annual meeting of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, begins next week in Hartford, Connecticut. NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the meeting covering workshops, general sessions and keynote speeches, as well as speaking with program speakers and conference attendees.

In advance of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Michael Caldwell, M.D., M.P.H., the Commissioner of Health in Dutchess County, New York, and a member of the NACCHO Annual Planning Committee.

NewPublicHealth: What is the theme of this year’s meeting?

Dr. Caldwell: The theme is “Moving Public Health Forward in Challenging Times.” Budget cuts, in particular, make this a time when we have to pull together and look at various opportunities that are afforded for local departments of health. A number of those opportunities are coming about because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is being implemented; the rolling out in the fall of public health department accreditation; and increased cooperation and collaboration between local departments of health and federally qualified health care centers.

NPH: You are the Chair of the Public Health Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRN) National Advisory Committee. What are PBRNs and what can conference attendees learn about them at the NACCHO meeting?

Dr. Caldwell: The PBRNs essentially are collections of public health agencies and their partner organizations, mostly academic. The collaborative groups conduct rigorous research studies that are actually meaningful and timely on topics such as public health financing or a public health categorical area, such as maternal child health or even something more specific like tobacco control in a certain community. What we are trying to do is to get actionable intelligence for public health so that we then can measure things, disseminate this information and then hopefully have it replicated very quickly.

There is actually going to be a specific PBRN session [at NACCHO 2011] on applied systems research to inform local public health policy. Several projects are going to be highlighted--one from the state of Connecticut, one from the state of Minnesota, and one from the state of Florida, so we’re going to be seeing some results of this research presented along with conversations about the PBRNs throughout the meeting.

NPH: What’s the history of PBRNs, how old are they, and how far have they come in terms of disseminating data so far?

Dr. Caldwell: Well, everything is relatively new, in the past three to five years, thanks to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s commitment, as well new emerging resources from the federal government, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is recognition that PBRNs are an important component of our public health systems and services research. We have just launched a national coordinating center, housed at the University of Kentucky, to be the central location where all public health systems and services research ideas are vetted and priorities can be developed. So the PBRNs are a very core component of the overall academic environment of public health systems services research--really a coming together of the academics as well as the day-to-day practice of state and local governmental health departments, with other partner organizations throughout the community, to come up with ideas that can be researched, measured, and developed, so that we find what works and don’t keep making the same mistakes. PBRNs are new, but they are growing, and I think that they are going to be increasingly relevant in the next few years with the continued stress on, and contraction of, health departments.

NPH: What advice do you have for conference attendees, both newcomers and veterans?

Dr. Caldwell: The whole conference is filled with opportunity starting right from the very beginning when we have a panel with federal, state and local experts to give local health departments ideas on implementing these provisions at the Affordable Care Act in their local community. Go to as many sessions as you can, interact with your colleagues, and make sure that you learn as much as you can and bring that home with you.

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

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