Southeast Regional Academic Center for Environmental Public Health (SE-RAC) School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham
The Southeast Regional Academic Center for Environmental Public Health (SE-RAC) [PDF - 768 KB] seeks to develop and enhance practice capacities for members of the environmental public health (EPH) workforce. By working with key EPH leaders in the region’s 10 states and two U.S. territories, SE-RAC project team members identify needs and provide or broker technical assistance, consultation, and training resources based on core elements promulgated by federal agencies and national organizations as standards for EPH practice. These core elements include the Ten Essential Services for Environmental Health; the Core Competencies for Local Environmental Health Practitioners; and the goals of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Environmental Health’s strategy to revitalize environmental public health.
SE-RAC developed direct-contact partnerships with the key EPH leadership in 10 southeastern states and two U.S. territories (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). We continue to work with local pubic health environmentalists in eight county health departments on Protocol for Assessing Community Excellence in Environmental Health (PACE EH) projects.
SE-RAC disseminated information about EPH services and resources and provided conference presentations on the core elements. We developed a training package for onsite sewage treatment and are developing an online training program for environmental health specialist.
Perceptions, pragmatics, and weather have been barriers to the attainment of our objectives. Capacity building for EPH must be carefully approached so that EPH practitioners do not develop the impression that federal agencies, national organizations, and universities are their critics in terms of suggesting that EPH leaders and workers are “not doing their jobs; i.e., all they should be doing” or “not doing their jobs well enough.”
Most leaders and their workforce members perceive themselves as heavily engaged in providing needed and effective EPH services, particularly with regard to the ten essential services. At SE-RAC, we forecast our project-related objectives and set up a timeline to guide the accomplishment of our work. Those who are engaged in the day-to-day provision of EPH services at the state and local levels also have their own agenda and timelines. These agenda and timelines often do not coincide and state and local EPH leaders do not see the value in responding to SE-RAC contact attempts or participating in project tasks (e.g., completing the profile worksheets).
Maintaining contacts with the network of EPH leaders in the region—especially in states along the Gulf Coast—has been strained since the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. The extreme amounts of time and other resources being devoted to natural disaster recovery efforts resulted in weeks and months passing before contact with SE-RAC and responses to information could even be considered.
What Is Next
- Develop a list of topics for articles and other documents to be disseminated to the EPH and public health practice communities
- Prepare finished prototype for the curriculum, Communities Working for Environmental Health
- Continue project outreach efforts (i.e., maintain established relationships with SE-RAC Steering Committee members, state and territorial EPH leaders, and Alabama PACE EH project developers at local county health departments)
- Respond to expressed EPH technical assistance and consultation needs within the region
- Advance and refine the Regional Academic Center (RAC) evaluation approach
Several SE-RAC products may have national transferability value.
- The community-focused curriculum, the onsite sewage training package, and, ultimately, the Web-based EPH workforce training package have all been designed for EPH practitioners in a variety of settings.
- The EPH Practice Profile will provide information on the structure and practice of EPH in 10 southeastern states and two U.S. territories, which allows both for enumeration and for comparison with other states outside the region. Manuscripts relating to project findings and lessons learned will be submitted to professional journals.
- Finally, delineating the issues associated with and determining a strategy for evaluating the health impacts of a capacity-building initiative will be illustrative to EPH and public health practice communities across the country.
- Awareness of EPH practice activities and realities because of major emphasis on bench science research and industrial hygiene education at the graduate level.
- Awareness or knowledge about how other schools of public health across the United States are engaged with EPH leaders and practitioners at the state and local levels.
- Environmental health partnerships between the University of Alabama Birmingham and Alabama Department of Public Health at the state, area, and county levels.
- Statewide environmental health advisory group for Alabama.
- Comprehensive needs assessment and enumeration of Alabama’s EPH workforce.
- New training curriculum emphasizing EPH practitioner skills to work with community members in nonregulatory activities.
- Twelve community environmental health assessments and PACE EH projects.
- Development of the Southeastern EPH Profile, which provides region wide descriptions of EPH practices in the 10 states in the region.
- Awareness of the extent to which our “Core Elements” were impacting EPH planning, implementation, and evaluation across the region. Core elements include the Ten Essential Services of Environmental health, the Fourteen Core Competencies of Local Environmentalists, and the six goals of the National Strategy to Revitalize Environmental Public Health Services.
- Expansion of our expertise with the PACE EH methodology.
- Coalescing of EPH practitioners around the issue of EPH and natural disasters (i.e., no hurricane dialogues).