Inspiration in Greensburg: The Vital Role of Public Health

    • February 24, 2009

In his first statement to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama cited Greensburg, Kansas, as an example of inspiration and hope one can find “in the most unlikely places.”

“I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community—how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. 'The tragedy was terrible,' said one of the men who helped them rebuild. 'But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity.'"
—President Barack Obama, February 24, 2009

Almost two years after a category 5 tornado leveled 95 percent of the town Greensburg,  public health continues to play a critical role rebuilding the community and improving the lives of its residents. The complete devastation caused by the tornado required a comprehensive public health response from across the state—from emergency response to dispensing medication to coordinating temporary housing to leading a state-of-the-art energy-efficient reconstruction effort. With the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), RWJF produced a video illustrating the breadth of the public health response in Greensburg and highlighting the vital services provided by public health departments every day—long after disaster strikes.

Kansas is one of two states currently involved in an effort to explore a regionalized system of providing public health services. Both Kansas and Massachusetts are considering the benefits of providing some services on a regional, rather than local, health department level. Combining some health local departments—or at least the services these departments provide—could be a way to share resources and help smaller health departments meet the national, voluntary accreditation standards that will be in place by 2011. The story of Greensburg—a situation in which public health partners from across the state came together to provide expertise and service delivery—underscores the importance of the regionalization project.

Today, thanks to the efforts of the public health community, Greensburg is more than an example of disaster relief and green rebuilding, it is a source of hope and inspiration for communities across the country.