Perhaps you’ve been surrounded lately by discussions about Healthy People 2020 or Public Health 3.0 and how your health department can achieve it. Public health practice is being enhanced and broadened as pioneering local public health departments shift focus to address social determinants of health (or upstream determinants of health) and collaboration across non-traditional sectors, and embrace of the role of the Chief Health Strategist. This public health modernization is what the US Department of Health & Human Services is calling, “Public Health 3.0.”
For more background on Public Health 3.0, check out our article, “10 Basic Things You Need to Know About Public Health 3.0.”
The US Department of Health & Human Services Public Health 3.0 Whitepaper issues a challenge to public health workers, “Public health leaders should embrace the role of Chief Health Strategist for their communities—working with all relevant partners so that they can drive initiatives including those that explicitly address ‘upstream’ social determinants of health.” The Community Health Strategist is integral to coalition-led efforts that transform public health.
“Public health leaders should embrace the role of Chief Health Strategist for their communities—working with all relevant partners so that they can drive initiatives including those that explicitly address ‘upstream’ social determinants of health.”
US Department of Health & Human Services
But what exactly does that mean and how can your local public health department take practical steps to achieve this?
What is a Chief Health Strategist?
According to the Public Health Foundation (PHF), “…a Community Chief Health Strategist is an engaged change leader (or group of leaders) who builds community coalitions that investigate and take action to make meaningful progress on a community health issue.” The PHF goes on to say, “As a result of this engagement the organization can assume a role beyond its walls, as an anchor facilitating multi-sector initiatives that involve numerous community stakeholders.”
RESOLVE’s 2014 paper, The High Achieving Governmental Health Department in 2020 as the Community Health Strategist outlines the role of a chief health strategist as, “chief health strategists will lead their community’s health promotion efforts in partnership with health care clinicians and leaders in widely diverse sectors, from social services to education to transportation to public safety and community development. The emphasis will be on catalyzing and taking actions that improve community well-being, and such high achieving health departments will play a vital role in promoting the reorientation of the health care system towards prevention and wellness.”
Who is the Chief Health Strategist?
The role of chief health strategist in a community may be filled by an elected official, a hospital, some other private entity, or a public health agency. NACCHO particularly encourages local health departments to fill this role. In a paper from 2016 they state, “Local health departments are uniquely positioned to fill this role through their experience in providing essential services and leadership, engaging communities to identify and support policy situations, and collecting, analyzing, and sharing data.”
“Local health departments are uniquely positioned to fill this role through their experience in providing essential services and leadership, engaging communities to identify and support policy situations, and collecting, analyzing, and sharing data.”
NACCHO paper, “The Local Health Department as the Community Chief Health Strategist” (Feb. 2016)
According to NACCHO, not only do LHDs already have the experience, knowledge, and tools to be excellent chief health strategists in their community, but in filling that role, they will receive benefits in return. In the same 2016 paper, NACCHO predicts, “As the community chief health strategist in their communities, local health departments acquire new functions and advance current roles to prevent death, disease, and disability; address emerging threats to health, security and equity; and eliminate the social and structural injustices that result in health disparities.”
One example of the benefits of the local health department taking on the role of chief health strategist can be seen in the results of Tarrant County Public Health’s (TCPH) experience working to improve walkability in their community. They shared in an article for the Big Cities Health Coalition blog, “Walkability is one example of how our environment shapes our health. In fact, research shows us that our ability to pound the pavement has a really profound affect. While 43 percent of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home meet daily physical activity recommendations; only 27 percent of those without safe places to walk get their steps in.”
TCPH garnered support for their efforts from the community and developed cross-sector partnerships. One of their partners was a local elementary school. Together, TCPH and the elementary school worked to launch a program they called “Walking Wednesdays”. Their article describes the results, “With help from the City of Fort Worth, the program addresses such issues as dilapidated sidewalks, inadequate school zone speed limit signage and ineffective crosswalks. By partnering with Silver Sneakers, a fitness program for seniors offered by a local chapter of the YMCA, the children who walk are building relationships and bridging the generational gap, while they stay physically active on their way to school.”
When an LHD takes on the role of chief health strategist, both the community and the health department benefit, and a real change can be affected in a community’s overall health.
Check out the next article in this series on Public Health as the Community Chief Health Strategist, “Why Should Your Health Department Fill the Chief Health Strategist Role?”
To learn more about Public Health 3.0, check out our article, “10 Basic Things You Need to Know About Public Health 3.0.”