KHI News Service

Officials gather to evaluate state’s public health system

By Phil Cauthon | November 02, 2012

Michelle Ponce, (foreground) director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments, was among the participants in today's assessment of the state's public health system.

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Sixty officials from a variety of disciplines and from around the state gathered here today to grade Kansas' public health system by collectively answering a battery of 600 questions as part of the National Public Health Performance Standards Program.

Kansas is one of 23 states to conduct the evaluation and first did so in 2008, a year after the program was started by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four years ago, however, only officials from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment participated, said Brenda Nickel, director of KDHE's Center for Performance Management.

"The intent at the time was to also conduct it with our external partners statewide. But in 2008, the recession was going on and that opportunity was never fully realized," she said. "What's going on here today with our external stateholders, I think is going to provide a richer report because we actually have those individuals with boots on the ground in communities, as well as state-level partners, who are helping answer these questions."

Participants split into three groups to each grade the state's public health system on 200 questions, such as:

• Does the state public health system commit financial resources to workforce development efforts?

• Does the system utilize the leadership of the state public health agency in planning and policy development?


State Public Health System Performance Assessment Instrument

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• Does the system have the professional expertise to carry out effective health communications?

The quantity of questions to be answered in a single day left little time for discussion of each question before the group voted on a grade.

The pace of the evaluation helped keep the group focused and moving along, said participant Michelle Ponce, director of the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments.

"We don't have time to get caught up in the weeds or thinking through every single in and out — we have to limit ourselves to the big picture and stay focused on the larger system. It doesn't give you time to get mired down into who does what and who's responsibility exactly is it. We're focused on the system — what is everybody's responsibility, what do we do well, and what are the gaps," Ponce said.

The results of the evaluation will be issued in a report by the end of the year, and forwarded to each of the participating organizations as well as to the Healthy Kansas 2020 steering committee, which is currently working to prioritize the state's health initiatives for the next decade.

How the results of the evaluation are utilized will be up to the individual organizations and state agencies, said Jane Shirley, director of KDHE's Local Health Program.

"Hopefully, all of the public health partners will use this information — on their own or collectively — to strategically decide where they're going to go," she said.

Among the results of the 2008 evaluation was the formation of the Kansas Partnership for Improving Community Health, which supplies access to data, expertise and other resources via

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