Federal focus on public health spotlights Allegheny County
April 5, 2016 12:00 AM
Karen B. DeSalvo, acting assistant secretary for health and national coordinator for health information technology at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, addresses officials Monday at the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg.
Ken Regal, exective director of Just Harvest, listens to Karen B. DeSalvo speak Monday during the daylong “Public Health 3.0” discussion held at the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg.
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Long known for vaccination clinics and restaurant inspections, public health departments may be on the brink of their next big act.
A federal concept dubbed “Public Health 3.0” is encouraging the agencies to consider public-private partnerships, data projects to track health hazards and better collaboration across bureaucracy to improve a community’s overall wellness before disaster looms.
“Public health can be invisible to the average person, but it saves our life every day. We just don’t know it,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, acting assistant secretary for health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. DeSalvo addressed a forum Monday at the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg, where her department had the first of several community health discussions planned this year across the
country. The idea is to collect insights from communities already testing new approaches to public health, so federal officials can learn and share the innovations, she said.
About 100 attendees at the Wilkinsburg forum listened as Karen Hacker, the Allegheny County Health Department director, led panel conversations on Live Well Allegheny. Started in January 2014, the county effort promotes physical activity, smart nutrition and general health through dozens of partnerships with restaurants, schools and other organizations.
“Pittsburgh is coming back in a lot of ways,” including on the economic front, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald told the audience of health workers, business leaders and others. “But if our physical health doesn’t follow, we have a lot of work we need to do.”
Rankings suggest some progress in the county, long troubled by robust smoking and obesity rates. In annual county health rankings funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Allegheny climbed this year to 26th in Pennsylvania for health outcomes. That’s up from 49th in 2010 out of the 67 counties in the commonwealth.
Although Dr. Hacker has not claimed credit for such movement, strong public health leadership and innovative partnerships in the county helped draw the federal health department to begin its “3.0” meetings in the region, Dr. DeSalvo said. Her counterpart at the state level, Pennsylvania health secretary Karen Murphy, said public workers need to explore “all the social determinants of health.”
Past health officials “were either preparing for the [next] disaster or reacting to one. This is a completely different conversation,” Ms. Murphy said of the proactive thinking.
To Dr. DeSalvo, “3.0” is “really rethinking our approach.”
“Every county, every city, every state is going to be different,” she said. “It’s not that we think there’s one cookie cutter, one way to improve the public’s health. What we want to do is look for themes in the communities where we’re learning from what’s happening on the ground.”
Adam Smeltz: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2625. Twitter: asmeltz.
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