Allegheny County Health Department begins countywide health assessment

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Allegheny County is embarking on a months-long program to assess the health of the community with a goal of achieving national accreditation for its health department.

The three-tiered process began last week with residents asked to participate in a self-assessment survey of their health condition.

“This is a really good chance to participate with your health department,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the health department.

In addition to the survey, the department will go into local communities to garner feedback. Once information is gathered, Dr. Hacker and her team will dedicate a few months to “strategic planning,” before beginning to work on the most problematic areas of public health.

In the survey, available through June 30, residents may choose from 43 health categories to rank their 10 largest issues. These include childhood lead poisoning, poverty, oral health and overdose deaths, but there also is an opportunity to add other health concerns.

At the bottom of the form, participants are given the option to provide their names and organizations they might represent. Zip codes are required to guarantee even geographic distribution.

In its first week, the survey has attracted well over a hundred responses. Dr. Hacker said there will be other “multiple opportunities for input — community meetings, even additional surveys to get folks involved.”

She emphasized that her team will work directly with community leaders and conduct neighborhood visits to compensate for the bias associated with a computer survey.

“This is a collaborative kind of scenario. When you go out to communities to think about health, they think about things that happen on a daily basis — like garbage dumps. They’re less likely to think about things like chronic disease. That’s where we come in.”

The survey will conclude at the end of the month to give the department time to digest data before the fall’s planning stage. Dr Hacker hopes to lead community meetings in September and October.

“We figured this is a great first step to engage people in the process,” she concluded.

The project is part of the county’s effort to have the health department accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board. Health Department spokesman Guillermo Cole said the accreditation program was launched in 2011 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to include the quality of health departments across the country.

Emma S. Brown: or 412-263-3778.

Emma Brown: or 412-263-3778.

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