There’s significant disparity among public health departments, Charlie Fautin, public health director for Benton County, told the newly seated Public Health Advisory Board on Friday. Some health departments struggle to fund basic services such as restaurant inspections, outbreak investigations or epidemiology.
Oregon and each of the state’s 34 local public health authorities are assessing how well they can deliver on seven foundational capabilities and programs that the state and counties themselves defined through a rigorous process that dates back to passage of HB 2348 in 2013.
Environmental health, for example, includes ensuring assess to clean drinking water, while the meningitis outbreak at the University of Oregon and the Chipotle E.coli outbreak fall into the communicable disease control category.
“You don’t have to go back very far to see what people (in public health) are doing,” said Lillian Shirley, OHA’s Public Health Division director.
Describing “how we got here today,” Michael Tynan, policy officer for OHA’s Public Health Division, said public health traditionally provided safety net services but with 95 percent of Oregonians insured, public health needs to focus on higher-impact, longer-lasting protective measures.
Oregon ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in funding public health. Part of the purpose of the county-by-county assessments is to “figure out where we are and to figure out what it would take to fill the gap,” Tynan said.
Local health authorities have the flexibility to operationalize the foundational capabilities and programs in “a way that makes sense” Tynan said, which might be a single county structure or some shared services or with a multi-county jurisdiction like the North Central Public Health District composed of Wasco, Sherman and Gilliam counties.
PHAB’s first task is to hammer out a charter that serves as a “good blueprint for our work over the next few months,” said Jeffrey Luck, board chair, who’s an associate professor at the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
Luck summarized priorities that include aligning with CCOs and early learning hubs along with making recommendations to the Health Policy Board on public health modernization and funding for public health.
Jan can be reached at [email protected].