Performance Standards Program Leading to Health Improvements: Strengthening Public Health Services

By Late, Michele | The Nation's Health, December 2006 | Go to article overview

Performance Standards Program Leading to Health Improvements: Strengthening Public Health Services


Late, Michele, The Nation's Health


Health leaders across the country are finding that taking a closer look at their public health systems can have positive results, leading to strengthened partnerships, new lines of communication and most importantly, health improvements.

The accomplishments are being realized thanks to the National Public Health Performance Standards Program, a performance assessment tool that helps health system stakeholders assess how well they are meeting the needs of residents. Launched in 2002, the program allows health leaders to compile and evaluate data on their health systems and provides a framework for improvement. More than 20 states, 800 local health systems and hundreds of local boards of health have conducted assessments using the standards program as of September 2006.

"It's wonderful to see that so many communities have embraced the program, and even better, that they are using the process to make a difference in the health of their residents," said Karlene Baddy, MEd, APHA's director of public health systems and partnerships.

Among those that are seeing results through the program is El Paso County, Colo., home to Colorado Springs. The county conducted an assessment of its public health system in 2003 using the National Public Health Performance Standards Program, finding that the county was performing well in areas such as surveillance, disease management and linking residents to health care. Health leaders found that they weren't doing quite as well in public health research, which spurred them into action, according to Kandi Buckland, MPA, RN, deputy public health administrator for the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment.

Building on partnerships made through the assessment process, the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment developed a relationship with a local university to booster public health research. The new alliance is having a positive impact: When El Paso County health officials found they were lacking local information on immunizations--specifically, on why schools, day care centers and physicians weren't keeping their immunization data up to date--health officials were able to link up with researchers at the university. The researchers are now in the process of conducting focus groups, which are expected to yield important insights for the health department.

"We have just found it to be a really good relationship," Buckland told The Nation's Health. "It's been a win-win."

El Paso's success was made possible through an assessment instrument provided through the National Public Health Performance Standards Program. The program centers around three assessment tools: a state-level instrument for evaluating state public health systems, a local instrument for local systems and a governance instrument for local governing bodies such as local boards of health. Based on the essential functions of public health--such as surveillance, research and health promotion--the instruments query users on their systems' ability to offer public health services.

Among those using results from the standards program to improve quality is the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services in Concord, N.H. The department led an assessment of its public health system in 2005 and followed up with a summit this year.

Based on the results of the assessment, the health department is using work groups to explore six strategic priorities: improving policy and planning, informing and educating the public, strengthening the work force, developing a public health communication plan, mobilizing partnerships and monitoring health status.

Now carrying out their work, the New Hampshire work groups are expected to issue recommendations that can be used to create a public health improvement plan with specific measures, according to Joan Ascheim, MSN, chief of the Bureau of Policy and Performance Improvement within the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. …

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