Need for Nebraska public health officials’ training sparks conversation about funding

Photo: Nebraska Unicameral Information Office

Photo: Nebraska Unicameral Information Office

By Haley Dover, Nebraska News Service
LINCOLN– Public health nurses and other public health workers, many in rural communities, would get new training opportunities under a bill heard by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee Thursday.
A bill introduced by Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha would grant funds to the Office of Public Health Practice in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and its Great Plains Public Health Leadership Institute.
An annual cost of $250,000 would fund a program that would certify public health officials — including state and public health department workers, public health nurses and federally qualified health center workers — most of whom work in rural communities.¬†
“Anyone that works in an organization that has the community’s health as their mission is considered a public health official,” said Brandon Grimm, director of the Office of Public Health Practice in UNMC’s College of Public Health.¬†
A local or regional public health department currently covers all counties in Nebraska. Public health officials deal with issues including mental health, substance abuse, long-term care, violence, effects of climate change and many other issues that affect people’s health, Howard said.
While the public health system focuses on community health, health departments also deal with health care delivery, employers and businesses, the media, academia and governmental public health infrastructure, she said. The H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009 was a prime example of the need for a well-trained public health system, Howard said.
If passed, LB1051 would provide funding to the Office of Public Health Practice  to provide more education and training opportunities to public health officials. Currently, there is a year-long training program through the Great Plains Public Health Leadership Institute designed for emerging and mid-level senior leaders working in the public health system, Grimm said. Training sessions range from 20-25 people from health departments across the state.
“The funding would allow us to target some of the most identified needs for individuals in the public health system,” he said.
The OPHP has identified the top five skill-based training sessions public health officials need: financial planning and management, cultural awareness, analytical and assessment skills, leadership and systems thinking and communication. Through these training programs, officials will learn how to make a budget, become culturally competent, evaluate health programs implemented in their communities and learn how to work together to improve their community’s public health, Grimm said. The year-long program holds training sessions on-site at UNMC and through distance education with webinars, online modules and assignments.
“There are also opportunities for us to go to organizations and do a course with them,” he said. “This allows us to meet the needs of everyone in the organization, not just one or two people pulled out to go to the institute.”
The OPHP has also created a workforce development plan that will prepare local public health departments for national accreditation, which could eventually be tied to federal funding in the future, Howard said.
Kerri Peterson, an alumna of the Great Plains Public Health Leadership Institute and director of LiveWell Omaha, was one of a handful of institute graduates in attendance to give her support to the bill at Thursday’s hearing.
“Public health is needed not only for emergency preparedness in the case of an epidemic, but also in community planning,” Peterson said. “Public health officials are critical but often overlooked.”
Contact Haley Dover at nns.hdover@gmail.com.
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