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KHI to lead national public health project aimed at helping local agencies share services, improve efficiency

By Susie Fagan | May 23, 2012

The Kansas Health Institute has been selected to lead a more than $4 million national effort that will link select public health organizations in a learning community as they work to strengthen their ability to provide essential services, improve efficiency and control costs.

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a project team based at KHI will assist public health agencies across the country, their partners and policymakers who are considering or implementing regional or shared approaches to deliver local public health services, also known as cross-jurisdictional sharing.

"We are honored to be selected to manage the project and work with public health agencies to identify new opportunities for efficiency and improvement," said Robert F. St. Peter, M.D., KHI president and CEO. "This award reflects the work that KHI and its partners in Kansas have done in recent years that has earned a national reputation in this field."

KHI was selected in a competitive application process to lead the project, which will involve a national learning community of up to 18 competitively selected and funded sites working to transform governmental public health at the local level. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will issue a call for proposals for a competitive grant award program in early June. The sites will be part of a national learning community created to help identify successful, innovative regional and shared approaches to improve the quality and efficiency of local public health services and control costs.

Activities in Kansas during the past 10 years have been important in the development of a practice-based body of knowledge on cross-jurisdictional sharing among public health departments. These innovative models allow multiple health departments - often those that are small and/or rural - to pool resources and collaborate to more effectively and efficiently carry out their mission to protect and improve health in the jurisdictions they serve.

In 2005, KHI and its partners were awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to further develop their model for regional standards. In 2006, Kansas joined the national Multi State Learning Collaborative (MLC) project, with KHI as the lead organization and the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) as major partners. From 2006 to 2011, KHI and its MLC partners conducted a number of activities that had a common focus on regional approaches to quality improvement and performance management with the active involvement of local policymakers and elected officials.

"Through previous work in Kansas with local health departments, we have gained valuable experience that will come into play as we develop and consult with a national network of public health agencies," said Gianfranco Pezzino, M.D., M.P.H., KHI senior fellow and co-director of the project. "This growing body of work around shared and regional approaches to delivering public health services suggests that such models could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these services."

Patrick Libbey, former executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials and a national expert on the issue of cross-jurisdictional sharing, will serve with Pezzino as the co-director. Libbey and Pezzino are presenting a session outlining the cross-jurisdictional project today at the National Network of Public Health Institutes annual conference in New Orleans.

Across the country, health departments are exploring a variety of options that range from informal coordination agreements to more formal cross-jurisdictional sharing models up to and including full consolidation of agencies. While the most immediate interest in a resource-sharing process - especially for policymakers - often is a desire to save money, cross-jurisdictional sharing also has the potential to affect the quality of the services provided and the health of the affected communities and residents. In addition, it may serve as a model for collaboration in other arenas that require public agencies to meet increasing service demands with fewer resources.

"The State Health Office is working toward PHAB Accreditation, and like many of the local communities in Kansas, we recognize that, in order to accomplish this goal, it requires assisting our partners through the sharing of information and technical assistance," said Robert Moser, M.D., KDHE secretary and state health officer. "Working together on shared goals while each partner brings their respective strengths and resources to obtain common objectives is a very effective strategy, especially in times of reduced funding and staffing in public health."

KHI is an independent, nonprofit health policy and research organization based in Topeka. Established in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, KHI conducts research and policy analysis on issues that affect the health of Kansans. For more information, see khi.org.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, measurable and timely change. For 40 years, the Foundation has brought experience, commitment and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. For more information, visit rwjf.org.