Public Health Challenges: Coronavirus, Pandemic & Beyond was the topic of the Jan 5, 2021, League of Women Voters Topeka-Shawnee County Tuesday Topics presentation by Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, Kansas Health Institute Senior Fellow. We’ve included the recorded presentation of the virtual meeting and provided highlights below. The library is a partner with the League of Women Voters Topeka-Shawnee County in sharing non-partisan civic information.
What is Public Health?
“What we can do together as a society to assure the conditions in which everyone can be healthy,” said Pezzino.
Federal Public Health
The federal government has the most resources, including money, technical assistance, advanced laboratories and emergency response. Pezzino said some planning and response functions are more efficient when centralized.
Federal Public Health Emergency Declarations: The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) may, under section 319 of the Public Health Service (PHS) Act determine that: a) a disease or disorder presents a public health emergency; or b) that a public health emergency, including significant outbreaks of infectious disease or bioterrorist attacks, otherwise exists.
State Public Health
The state government addresses disease surveillance, isolation and quarantine, advanced laboratory services, and preparedness and response planning. Kansas Department of Health and Environment includes the Division of Public Health.
County Public Health
The public health system is much more than the local health department. The system includes schools, police, laboratory facilities, economic development, fire, mass transit, churches, philanthropists, corrections, elected officials, home health, hospitals, drug treatment, mental health, community centers, emergency medical services, nursing homes, parks, managed care organizations, tribal health, employers, civic groups, community health centers and doctors.
The local government, in “decentralized” states, have broad public health power, that meets or exceeds the state power. In Shawnee County, the Board of County Commissioners is the Board of Health.
The legislative changes in Kansas in June 2020 with HB2016 made it easier for the Board of County Commissioners to overrule health officers and opt out of state containment measures.
Lessons Learned in 2020 Pandemic
Collaborations are vital. Data-driven decisions are critical. Communication is a key component, along with flexibility and adaptation.
During the pandemic in 2020, Shawnee County’s strengths included data driven decisions, an experienced leadership team, and strong partnership between city government, county government and the business community. Our challenges included many that were reflected nationally: politicization of public health, no centralized national leadership, polarization, changing information and recommendations, and fatigue.
As our community, nation and world prepare for future pandemics, public health needs reforming including within governance and fragmentation, to encourage expert health leadership and resource and program sharing.
February’s Tuesday Topics
The recorded presentation will also be available on the library’s website in mid February.