Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Partners Launch New Public Health Law Initiative

    • September 21, 2010

From air bag requirements for cars to smoke-free regulations in restaurants and bars, law has become an increasingly powerful tool to create healthier, safer communities. As a result, those vested in public health—from local, state, federal, tribal officials and their legal counsel to public health practitioners, policy-makers and advocates—have an increasing need for public health legal expertise to help them develop, implement and enforce laws that help solve public health problems.

The Public Health Law Network opened today to provide answers to professionals grappling with complex public health challenges that may warrant legal and policy solutions. On a broader level, the Network aims to increase the use and the effectiveness of public health laws in protecting, promoting and improving public health by delivering technical assistance and providing education and training to help public health practitioners, lawyers, policy-makers and others working to apply the law to pressing public health issues.

As of Monday, September 20, anyone working in the fields of public health or law can call or e-mail the Network for guidance on how best to apply the law to their particular public health concern. Additionally, the Network will provide education and training focused on applying the law to improve public health.

“Those working in the field of public health are confronted daily with a wide range of issues—from health reform to emergency preparedness—that intersect with the law. The law is an important tool to protect public health,” said Dan Stier, J.D., director of the Public Health Law Network—National Coordinating Center. “Our goal is to build a robust network of experts who can share their knowledge with others interested in using the law as a powerful tool to improve public health.”

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is providing initial funding for the Public Health Law Network and hopes that other organizations will also work with the Network as it expands. “We are excited to help launch this national resource that will improve the health of families and communities around our nation,” said Michelle Larkin, J.D., M.S., R.N., director of the RWJF public health team. “Laws and policies, like those used to create smoke-free environments across the United States or those that protect the spread of disease during health emergencies, are some of the most effective and lasting ways to help people be healthy.”

The Public Health Law Network complements RWJF’s other programs that explore and support policy and legal solutions to health problems, including the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN), Public Health Law Research and the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium.

The Network will provide legal technical assistance on many public health topics, including, but not limited to:

  • Cross-border public health
  • Emergency legal preparedness and response
  • Environmental public health
  • Food safety
  • Health reform
  • Health information data sharing
  • Injury prevention and safety
  • Public health agency accreditation and regionalization
  • Public health statutes and regulatory information
  • Tobacco control
  • Tribal public health

The Network is divided includes five regional centers serving the United States at the following academic institutions:

  • The Public Health Law Center at William Mitchell College of Law (which also serves as the National Coordinating Center for the Network)
  • The University of Maryland School of Law working with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • University of Michigan School of Public Health
  • North Carolina Institute for Public Health at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health working with the National Health Law Program
  • Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University working with the University of New Mexico School of Law

Initially, legal experts from these institutions will form the core group of Network leaders, but the Network hopes to expand rapidly to add a wide range of existing and new partners and practitioners.

Public Health Law Network is a national initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with direction and technical assistance by the Public Health Law Center at William Mitchell College of Law.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.