If you’ve read our article, “What is a Chief Health Strategist?” then you may be wondering why your health department should fill the role of the chief health strategist for your community.

The US Department of Health & Human Services has issued 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.”

“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

Why Public Health?

You may be asking, “Why should public health take on this role?” The answer is that the changing landscape of public health necessitates a new, modernized approach to community healthcare.

RESOLVE’s 2014 paperThe High Achieving Governmental Health Department in 2020 as the Community Health Strategist discusses the changing landscape of public health:

Health care needs are changing

“The prevalence of chronic disease has skyrocketed as life expectancy has increased and other causes of death have decreased. Much attention has appropriately focused on obesity and asthma in the last several years, and health departments have scrambled to find the necessary resources to respond. In the coming years these diseases are likely to continue to remain priorities, but in addition, health departments will need to focus on other chronic diseases that are leading preventable causes of morbidity as well such as those associated with behavioral and oral health and sensory-related disabilities.” (RESOLVE)

Leading causes of death are now largely attributed to behaviors vs. disease or illness (e.g. smoking, eating patterns, etc.).

Demographics are changing

The elderly and very elderly population is growing. “The increased prevalence of the chronic conditions mentioned above will continue as the elderly and very elderly (over 85 years of age) population grows. Public health departments will face the challenge of developing strategies to help elders maintain their independence and quality of life.” (RESOLVE)

In addition, health inequity could become an even greater issue as the Latino population and other populations of color grow. ” To date, our public health successes have not often been evenly effective by class and race. As a consequence and particularly in poorly resourced areas the preventable disease burden of the future will require new approaches perhaps drawn from the
global health arena.” (RESOLVE)

Access to clinical care is increasing

“Although there will be differences from community to community, access to clinical care will likely grow everywhere due to an increase in public and private health insurance coverage. As a result some services traditionally provided by public health departments will be covered by health insurance. This change will mean that the role of public health departments as the safety net provider will be diminished and in some instances eliminated entirely.” (RESOLVE)

The Affordable Care Act improved access to healthcare which means less people need clinical care from health departments; this has led to a prioritization of prevention initiatives over clinical care. There is a need for public health to shift away from providing the same or similar direct clinical services as primary care providers and instead focus on providing more complementary services

The way we consume information is evolving

Public health has always been an information-based discipline. That’s its stock in trade. But the old ways of collecting and analyzing information are no longer sufficient. The nature of information technology, information sources, and public expectations of accessibility are changing, and public health needs to rapidly adapt and evolve in response.” (RESOLVE)

The role of public health should evolve to that of information interpreter and distributor, as public health departments step into the role of chief health strategist. Data and information is increasingly available in real-time and from a variety of sources. It will become public health’s job to assemble this data into a meaningful format and ensure the community has access to it.

Cross-sector collaboration will become increasingly key in promoting community health

As focus continues to shift towards upstream interventions, it will become increasingly key to involve non-health sectors in community health strategy. Increasing access to well-lit and well-paved walking paths, healthy food options, safe parks, good transportation, etc. are all things that contribute to a community’s overall health and life expectancy. Each of these types of areas will require public health departments to engage non-health community leaders, bring them to the table, and take the lead in creating a community health strategy.

“Public health’s role will involve working collaboratively with these diverse sectors – be they city planners, transportation officials or employers – to create conditions that are likely to promote
the health and well-being of the public.” (RESOLVE)

What are the advantages to you?

Responding to the changing landscape of public health by stepping into the role of chief health strategist helps you address these new challenges. Beyond that, stepping into this new role brings a host of benefits as well.

Better resources:

Building cross-sector partnerships in your community helps expand your resources to meet your goal. Community partners can bring additional funds to the table. In addition, health departments can use the role of chief health strategist to collaborate with other government agencies to accomplish complementary ends. This allows health departments to merge funding with other government departments and capitalize on resources already being spent on reaching a similar goal.

“Building cross-sector partnerships in your community helps expand your resources to meet your goal. Community partners can bring additional funds to the table.”

Community engagement:

As you build cross-sector partnerships, you’re also building community engagement. Eliciting feedback from your community and communicating with other partners helps build rapport. This will allow you to engage your community in the process as you work towards your goals. This also opens the door for valuable feedback.

Quality improvement:

The role of chief health strategist is directly in line with quality improvement. As you set goals and determine strategies to achieve those goals, changes will naturally be made. Change is an opportunity to alter process, evolve your culture, and generate buy-in among staff. As changes are made, quality improvement can be implemented and is often a natural part of the process.

Addressing problems before they start:

Your focus can shift to preventing tomorrow’s problems by employing upstream interventions and addressing underlying causes. Not only is this a means to save funds in the long-term, but you will be bettering your community’s quality of life.

More complete data:

In a 2016 article on Health Affairs blog, co-authors Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo (Acting Assistant Secretary, HHS) and Georges Benjamin (Executive Director, APHA) discussed the need for timely, reliable, granular-level data, “Such actionable information including data and metrics that encompass health care and public health is essential to guide, focus, and assess the impact of prevention initiatives, especially those targeting the social determinants of health and enhancing equity. …The public and private sectors should work together to enable more real-time and geographically granular data to be shared, linked, and synthesized to inform action while protecting data security and individual privacy.”

The chief health strategist garners this data by forming partnerships across their community.

Next Steps:

This is the second article in our series on Public Health as the Community Chief Health Strategist. Click here to read the first article in the series, “What is a Chief Health Strategist?”

To learn more about Public Health 3.0, check out our article, “10 Basic Things You Need to Know About Public Health 3.0.”