Transforming the Health Department
Efforts to improve health in New Orleans have gone hand-in-hand with efforts to recover from, and rebuild after, Hurricane Katrina. Before the storm, the city’s approach to health was the same as that found in many places across the country—focused more on clinical care rather than prevention and public health. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a cross-sector partnership of the City's Health Department, schools, businesses, and nonprofit organizations has made public health and prevention a major component of the ongoing recovery effort.
Hurricane Katrina exposed the problems that we had in this community,” said Dr. Karen DeSalvo, former Health Commissioner for the City of New Orleans. “The storm created a vacuum in all of our sectors, and gave us a chance to rush into that vacuum and create a new and better way that would improve the health of our population.
The first step in reorienting the department’s efforts towards health was the completion of the Public Health Accreditation Board’s (PBHA) accreditation process. In early 2014, New Orleans became one of the first 50 health departments to be accredited by PBHA.
“That for us was a moment of distinction and validation, as to where we’re trying to take our health department,” said current Health Commissioner, Charlotte Parent.
“That is how were getting from a place where we were treating the consequences of poor health decisions and the impacts of social determinants of health, and actually move into a place where we’re upstream and we can prevent it, but then work with other sectors, said former Commissioner DeSalvo.
But that the staff at the department are acutely aware that no one health department can solve every health challenge in a community. One of the biggest keys was bringing together a collection of partners that reflect all the social determinants of health and help ensure health is a consideration in every new policy.