ASTHO Annual Meeting Kicks Off: A Vision for the New Public Health

Oct 20, 2011, 2:14 AM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Opening_Session_ Auerbach John Auerbach, President of ASTHO

Today, public health leaders from across the country are gathered in Portland, Ore., for the start of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) Annual Meeting. This year’s meeting, and today’s Opening Session, focuses on the vision for the “new” public health. The Opening Session features perspectives on this vision from the federal, state and local levels.

John Auerbach, MBA, president of ASTHO and commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, said this has been a challenging year for public health with budget and staff cuts, but this year has also represented a number of new opportunities, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Community Transformation Grants.

Lillian Shirley, MPH, MPA, president of the National Association of County and City Health Officials and director of Multnomah County Health Department talked about what state and local public health can do together – and why that collaboration is so important. Shirley reflected on the lesson in collaboration learned during the H1N1 outbreak.

"We realized we couldn't do it with our own little solutions and resources within our sphere – we had to come together in different roles, and stick together to problem solve around vaccine distribution and timing," said Shirley. "We should remember those lessons learned. That taught us the kind of culture we need to have as a system."

"In these times, we have to focus on policies and partnerships," said Shirley, in addition to encouraging state health departments to look to non-traditional partners as well.

Shirley also commented on the most recent public health job loss data, and emphasized that in this economic environment, it is more important than ever to communicate the value and the effectiveness of public health activities.

Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, echoed the importance of telling the public health story.

"Communication is going to be one of the most important factors to determine whether we can weather the economic storm. We need to be making the point to various levels of government and decision-making constantly that public health works 24/7 to keep Americans safe from threats to our health and safety," said Frieden.

Frieden outlined the ways that further public health budget cuts would impact the nation:

  • Fewer foodborne illnesses detected
  • Tens of thousands more health care-associated infections
  • 45,000 fewer children and 80,000 fewer adults immunized
  • Thousands fewer aware of HIV status, and more likely to spread it to others

“We need to be much more proactive in educating our elected officials on how crucial our public health programs are,” said Frieden.

>>Follow NewPublicHealth coverage of the ASTHO Annual Meeting here.

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