New Public Health Center to Help CCOs

Behind-the-scenes work is key to promoting public health, according to its director Dr. Tom Eversole

Dec. 19, 2012 -- The new Center for Public Health Practice (CPHP) should be viewed as part of the “operating system” that keeps the machinery of public health running, its new director told The Lund Report.

Dr. Tom Eversole, a veterinarian-turned public health professional, heads the new organization, which is designed to support public health in six sectors, with a special emphasis on communicable diseases, including epidemiology, laboratory testing and immunization.

The center is vital to the new coordinated care organizations (CCO), Eversole said, because the state “needs a strong and effective public healthcare system” so these new organizations can achieve their goals of cutting costs and providing more effective care.

CCOs, which got under way in August, are designed to coordinate physical, mental and dental healthcare for people on the Oregon Health Plan insurance.

The center will work to prevent and control disease outbreaks, Eversole said, which in turn can help reduce the burden of disease that primary care providers have to deal with. The center screens all newborn infants for biochemical disorders to prevent disability or death, and collects and analyzes vital record data to monitor health trends, a center spokesman said in an email.

Assisting public health departments in preventing HIV, STD, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis is another key division. Eversole noted that TB is “not as big a problem in Oregon as it is in many other states” due to the public healthcare programs in place.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that Oregon ranked 30th out of 50 states for tuberculosis in 2011, with a case rate of 1.9 people for every 100,000 residents. Neighboring Washington ranked 17th with a 2.9 rate per 100,000, though Idaho did much better, with an 0.8 percent rate per 100,000, putting it in 47th place for the number of tuberculosis cases per resident.

The center will also work closely with local health departments on health equity and access to care by providing them with data and giving them information about which services they should be investing in.

“Think of us as the operating system behind your computer.” Public health doesn’t normally get the attention because “what you see is what flashes out on the screen” and those are the public health workers supplying direct support. But just as a computer can’t function without an operating system, public health needs its organizational and support structures as well.

Rounding out the center’s key responsibilities are the Public Health Lab, the vital records and health statistics department and the community liaison to public health departments.

The lab “is essential for running the tests that the CCOs require,” Eversole said. Apart from newborn screenings, the lab is charged with identifying and keeping records of genetic disorders and providing quality assurance for testing. The records department is essential to helping CCOs with their required community health assessments because it will help identify the public health problems where resources are needed.

The center has a full-time staff of 245 and a budget of $85 million, of which 46% is federally funded, 35% comes from other funds as newborn screening fees and 19% comes from the state's general fund.

Eversole believes that as the CCOs develop they will recognize the importance of public health issues for their success and the two can have a very productive relationship and reach the goal of lower costs and better care for Oregonians.  

News source: