By Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno, DNP, RN, NHA, CPH, CCM, CDP Public Health Promotion Specialist, Greenwich Department of Health
National Public Health Week is celebrated annually during the first full week in April. Each day is dedicated to a different public health issue.
In what year could this be more relevant than right now! Throughout the week public health issues are emphasized, the public health collaborators are acknowledged, and the public is educated about many facets of public, population, and community health.
Public health encompasses people, animals, birds, and fish; fauna, and flora; and the environment in which we all live. It is like the Pocahontas song that reminded us that “we are all connected in a circle in a loop that never ends.”
We live in a time where the stark reality of public health has hit home hard. We are normally oblivious to public health activities. They occur behind the scenes. When all is well, public health is invisible.
The pandemic moved our essential public health workforce to the fore. We reap its benefits in public health guidance. We see it through the work of virologists expanding knowledge about viruses, how they change, and how we can deactivate them. We marvel at the work of scientists, pharmacists, and healthcare providers who work tirelessly to create vaccines and treatments, to understand the human response to catastrophic illness, to render aid and comfort, and to keep us alive despite ourselves. We see public health in action from our initial contact with first responders; we find it everywhere care is rendered and where life sometimes ends. But public health goes way beyond that. It is at work in food establishments, and in sites that keep our water, soil, and air pure.
Its impact is seen in how schools, labs, and health care facilities are regulated and monitored; all are kept safe through public health measures. We now see the impact of public health every day on the news, in COVID-testing sites and vaccination clinics, and in the monitoring and charting of our growing coronavirus spread, which has had a 43% increase based on a 2-week trend (NPR.org, 3.5.21).
While State and Local Health Departments are the designated leaders of public health, they do not act alone. Rather they are the designated public health authorities at the Federal, State, and Local levels; the U. S. Public Health Service of the Department of Human Services, the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and, here in Town, the Greenwich Department of Health. The United Way of Greenwich lists the Greenwich Department of Health as the lead agency for Public Health Emergency Planning not only for Greenwich but for the region of the State that includes Greenwich. The Greenwich Department of Health has a decades-long history of pandemic planning for the community and for nursing homes, as well as creating a written plan for mass immunizations. You can see that practice makes perfect in the flawlessly run COVID-19 clinics and the very heavy contact tracing efforts, all of which is conducted on top of the routine work that addresses all of the “essential services of public health” every day.
If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that our public health infrastructure is in need of bolstering. Public health has long been understaffed and underfunded. The National Public Health Association has pointed out that less than 3% of health care spending goes into public health. This is important because we have an ever-growing need to replenish our healthcare workforce. Our healthcare delivery system is replete with disparities that impact health outcomes. Our public health system needs to be strengthened to prepare us for future public health emergencies. This will not be our last pandemic and it will not be our last public health crisis.
This week the National Association of Public Health (www.nphw.org/nphw-2021) is bringing attention to rebuilding our public health infrastructure, improving racial equity, and strengthening communities by addressing the “social determinants of health”. It is also addressing climate change, improving our COVID-19 resilience, addressing shortcomings in our approach to mental health and wellness, and improving the situation for our essential and healthcare workforce.
Public health is a broad network of public, private, and municipal agencies, as well as volunteers, like our Greenwich Medical Reserve core, and Greenwich Red Cross, all working together to improve our lives and health. Happy National Public Health Week to this group of unsung heroes!
Also by Stephanie Paulmeno, DNP, RN, NHA, CPH, CCM, CDP Public Health Education Specialist/Greenwich Department of Health