Repost: “Why is the Health Department Here?”

Check out our local health department perspective featured in the national Living Cities blog. Below are some excerpts from the piece.

Seattle - skyline and rainier

Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health and Kirsten Wysen, Public Health Program Manager highlight several ways public health staff are working across sectors.

“In Seattle/King County, this evolution is occurring, in part, as a result of both protecting foundational public health services while aligning work with social issues that have the greatest impact on health. In fact, around the country, public health staff are now included at tables where they weren’t before—from transportation to early childhood development to affordable housing initiatives. In King County, you will find public health experts working with:

  • city transportation planners so light rail stations are walkable and bikable,
  • statewide Department of Early Learning leaders to address connections between the achievement gap and health disparities and
  • public housing authorities to measure the impact of housing re-development on health.”

They share seven ways health departments can advance cross-sector work.

In the last two years of working across sectors through the Living Cities Integration Initiative’s Communities of Opportunity, we’ve identified seven ways public health can partner with other sectors to add value:

  1. Data: One of the clearest reasons to work with a local health department is to access local, geographically based health data. This includes data on demographics, risk factors, and physical and mental health measures over time. Epidemiologists can share and analyze these data.
  2. Evaluation: Public health evaluators bring skills in analyzing the contributions different programs can make to improve residents’ health and well-being. When you bring evaluators to the table early in a project design, they can come up with simple ways to demonstrate the impact of community development work.
  3. Community Engagement: Some public health staff, often called “health educators,” have considerable experience, skills and social networks within communities. When these affected populations participate in the design of community development work, the outcomes are often more successful than cookie-cutter or externally-defined approaches.
  4. Racial Equity Lens: Many in public health have worked on the subtle and overt ways that racism affects health and what to do to change this. In fact, the American Public Health Association 2016 President, Dr. Camara Jones, has made addressing structural racism the priority of public health and her leadership this year.
  5. Evidence-Based Practice: While we are still building the evidence on the effects of social determinants of health, public health program staff and researchers have decades’ worth of research available on what has worked in the past. These resources include the Community Guide and toolkits on excellent websites:Community Health Improvement Navigator, County health rankings, Build Healthy Places Network, Community Tool Box and many others.
  6. Population-View: Public health leaders are trained to take a population view. As laid out in the Centers for Disease Control’s Community Health Improvement Navigator site, public health staff have experience considering the overall effects of systems on larger populations, which can lead to different conclusions than an individual level approach—more typical of the fields of medicine, social services and law.
  7. Navigation Role: At the end of the day, health department staff know that a city planner or city council is going to make the final decision about where to place a park or a new housing development, but health department staff can provide navigation guidance to inform that decision. Health impact assessments, from environmental health, are good examples of how a public health lens can provide navigation information for a major investment or policy decision.

Read the full version here.


One thought on “Repost: “Why is the Health Department Here?”

  1. Every day I drive from Harborview, down Airport Way on my home from work. I have never seen such a horrible mess as the homeless “camp”, right on the street, out in the open. It was once cleaned up but people are back in even greater force, and this week the mess is even worse. There are huge heaps of garbage everywhere. In my opinion, if this city wants to allow this they should at the very least provide garbage service and honey buckets! My question is, where is Public Health on this issue? This must be a huge health hazard! Recently, a client at work mentioned to me that this must be the dirtiest, nastiest city he’s ever seen. Wow, what a shame. Also, shameful is that these people live here like animals in one of the most prosperous cities in the country. Is this really the best we can do for the homeless as well as the rest of us that live here?

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