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2001–2004 Projects

Allegheny County (Pennsylvania) Health Department

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: BRUCE W. DIXON, MD

Program Description
The purpose of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) Environmental Health Capacity-Building Project was to develop a local environmental health information system for surveillance, investigation, tracking, and evaluation. Funds were also used to bring epidemiologic capacity to acceptable levels.

Goals and Objectives
This project created a series of environment indicators, the infrastructure to populate these indicators, and a single system to make them assessable to ACHD staff, other professionals, and the general public. ACHD developed 124 indicators for 11 environmental quality programs. ACHD also completely reorganized epidemiology and biostatistics programs; created the first management information system plan for the environmental programs; and implemented six specific information system projects, beginning with data application systems in air quality and food protection.

ACHD is also developing a comprehensive system to register and track environmental health complaints. The connections between environmental factors and human health outcomes are being investigated in the area of river water quality and asthma. In addition, ACHD is developing a prototype health data exchange with a multihospital health system.

Products and Outcomes
This project has helped ACHD focus energy within existing environmental health programs to address management information system needs in a comprehensive manner. The six specific information system projects will ultimately help design programs that will more effectively reduce morbidity and mortality due to environmental factors. The comprehensive environmental health plan brought the ACHD Director, program chiefs, and management information system staff together for the first time. This project helped take a systematic approach to all environmental health data. This framework will be used to maintain, upgrade, and continue developing applications for all aspects of environmental health.

This project led to the creation of a new disease investigation protocol. Recently, when Hepatitis A struck, hundreds of county residents were affected. Using this new protocol, ACHD prevented the substantial number of secondary cases that would otherwise have been expected.

Impact to the Community
The Epidemiology Manager helped to look at epidemiology needs in a systematic way. This led to the reorganization of the epidemiology and biostatistics programs and the hiring of two new epidemiologists for ACHD. Before the environmental health Capacity-Building Project, ACHD had no epidemiologists; now the department has three.

Feedback from Customers
“The Environmental Health Capacity Building Project forced us to look at our fundamental goals and how we are reporting our progress towards them. In the process, we were able to begin upgrading our data handling system and plan for more efficiency.”—Roger Westman, Air Quality Manager

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