Allegheny County Health Department
The environmental capacity-building program in Allegheny County seeks to improve the delivery of environmental health services at the local level by developing capacity to
- expand environmental epidemiologic service;
- develop a model for diagnosing and investigating health hazards and disease outbreaks in the community;
- create an active surveillance system focusing on special populations, including asthma;
- increase the understanding of asthma related data and its application to environmental health program planning at the local and state level, and
- assure a competent public health workforce.
The use of the national public health performance standards helped set a benchmark for improving environmental public health practice at the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD). After completion of the standards, ACHD efforts were focused on strengthening areas where little or no capacity was reported. The following areas were targeted:
- Reconfiguring data management systems for the environmental code enforcement programs
- Developing a set of environmental indicators to measure programmatic goals and objectives
- Creating a standard operating protocol for coordinating response to a health hazard event
- Creating an active surveillance system to transfer emergency department data to the health department
- Developing and implementing a 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (BRFSS) with an environmental component (will be repeated in 2008)
- Providing environmental health data that were critical to the successful creation of a chapter in a GIS tutorial for healthcare professionals
- Furthering workforce development through attendance at the Northeast Public Health Leadership Institute, and staff training on the10 Essential Services.
Barriers to the success of this project included loss of resources: both staff time and the loss of key management information system (MIS) personnel.
What Is Next
The initiatives identified in this cooperative agreement have improved the capacity for fundamental change to occur in the way ACHD delivers environmental health services. All of the deliverables or outputs will be integrated into existing operations at ACHD.
- Management Information Systems (MIS): Reconfiguration of the data management system(s) will be ongoing and supported through the MIS department.
- Environmental health indicators: Populating these indicators will allow us to establish baseline trends, track progress toward meeting programmatic goals and objectives, link environmental data to health outcomes, and begin predicting relationship of associated risk. ACHD will take the lead in helping other local agencies develop and test environmental health indicators at their agencies.
- Surveillance system: Development of an active surveillance system will be a primary focus of the Office of Epidemiology.
- Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) partnerships: ACHD will continue to partner with its Academic Center for Excellence in EPHT at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and the National EPHT Program at the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
- 2002 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS): Implementation in 2008.
Several products were created as a result of our ability to build partnerships with local, state, and federal agencies; industries; and organizations that supported the environmental capacity-building initiative. ACHD is striving to take these projects to other parts of the public health system and create nationally transferable and sustainable environmental health practices. These products are
- A set of environmental health indicators
- BRFSS with an environmental component
- A standard operating protocol for a health hazard event
- A prototype for an environmental complaints database
- A template for using the National Public Health Performance Standards for evaluating capacity to conduct the 10 Essential Services