When we think of our county health department, most of us think of children’s shots, restaurant inspections, preparing for a pandemic illness event or other tangible services provided by health departments. However, the most critical functions of our health department are very seldom seen. Local public health departments, as part of the public health system, assess community needs and strengths, plan and develop policy to meet those needs, and assure that the policy is carried out through programs, services and regulation. In 1988, the Institute of Medicine defined these as the core functions of public health.
Assessment of community health status is one of the least-noticed activities of the Peoria City/County Health Department. Just as a doctor does an assessment before prescribing treatment, the Health Department systematically collects and analyzes information on all aspects of the community’s health. Data that includes death and disease rates, environmental conditions, and behaviors that harm our health are routinely gathered and examined. The Department also monitors the community’s effectiveness in preventing disease, promoting wellness and assuring equitable access to health resources. This assessment is constantly reviewed and updated to enable the Health Department to respond to health needs and opportunities to improve the health of Peoria County citizens.
Policy development is the prescriptive aspect of public health. Information from the community assessment is filtered through the health, social, environmental and information sciences in the development of public policy. Whether in the form of a sewage code amendment, an infant immunization requirement, funding for a smoking prevention program or a public health emergency plan, public health policy creates conditions that allow individuals, families and communities to be healthier.
Assurance of service availability and the support systems needed to protect the community’s health are the most visible components of our health department. Policy is carried out by immunizing children, teaching families about nutrition, investigating infectious diseases and inspecting restaurants, wells and sewage systems. These activities may be carried out by the health department or other entities. Increasingly, they occur through partnerships with healthcare, government, social services, faith-based groups and business; yet our Health Department is responsible to assure that everything necessary is done to protect the health of Peoria County citizens.
In 2008, the portion of the County’s property taxes dedicated to fund the Health Department is $19.55 for a $150,000 home. For this, Peoria County citizens get the health protection offered by these core public health functions, as well as the services provided through governmental public health. This investment reduces risks of death and injury, and prevents unnecessary healthcare expenditures for our citizens.
For more information on local public health responsibilities, visit naccho.org/topics/infrastructure/accreditation/OpDef.cfm. iBi