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COUNTY CONNECTIONS: Local Public Health Goes Beyond COVID-19 Response Efforts

Jun 17, 2022 08:16AM ● By Laura Durenberger

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By: Grace Grinager, Public Health Supervisor - Cook County Public Health - June 17, 2022

 

Cook County’s local public health team has played a crucial role in responding to COVID-19 over the past two years. Our approach has been collaborative. Local public health provides partners in the community with evidence-based information on pandemic-related topics such as infection control and recommendations for what to do if you test positive for COVID-19 or are exposed to someone who is infectious with COVID-19. We have also helped people access resources such as testing, masks, and vaccination. All our work has been in partnership with our healthcare agencies: Grand Portage Health Services, North Shore Health, and Sawtooth Mountain Clinic. We have also worked extremely closely with partners throughout the local business community, area non-profits, childcares, and schools. We have engaged hundreds of Minnesota Responds volunteers in our response efforts, who collectively have served thousands of hours.

By working together, our community has done amazingly well at responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our vaccination rates are the highest in the State. Our cumulative case rates since the pandemic began are the lowest in the state.  Although COVID-19 continues to be a significant public health challenge, the approach we’ve taken to work together has limited the disease and suffering that this virus has caused to date in our local communities.


 


Our local public health team will continue to be involved with the COVID-19 response into the future. There is a cycle of public health emergency preparedness that ensures that our staff are always preparing for, responding to, recovering from, or mitigating the effects of an emergency. Public health is involved in preparing for the impacts of a variety of emergencies. We could be called to open an emergency shelter for example, in the case of a wildfire or extreme weather. 

As the landscape of COVID-19 continues to shift and change, so too will the ways that we are involved and the amount of time that public health staff dedicate to the pandemic. We need to ensure that can quickly scale up efforts when there are surges in cases, so that the community continues to have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about how to care for their health, and the resources they need to follow through on public health recommendations. We also need to scale efforts back when possible, so that we can focus our efforts on helping our communities recover from the pandemic, and on re-engaging the foundational public health responsibilities that we have had to put on hold due to intensity of the public health pandemic response.

What does local public health do outside of the pandemic?

The public health system in Minnesota is a partnership between local jurisdictions and the Minnesota Department of Health. There are six areas of responsibility for local public health agencies across the state:

  1. Assure an adequate local public health infrastructure 
  2. Promote healthy communities and healthy behavior 
  3. Prevent the spread of infectious diseases
  4. Protect against environmental health hazards 
  5. Prepare and respond to emergencies 
  6. Assure health services 

In practice, we prioritize our work in these areas through the Community Health Assessment and Improvement Planning process. Every five years, we use local data on health outcomes to assess the health of the County. We review this data with a group of community members and partner agencies, and together prioritize areas of community health in need to greatest improvement. 

Currently, these goals are:

1.        People Can Access Behavioral Health Services When They Need Them

2.        People Who Have Experienced Substance Abuse Have Support to Move Toward Recovery

3.        All Community Members Have Safe and Stable Housing

4.        Community Members of all Ages and Abilities Can Access Specialty Services

5.        Elders Experience Support to Age in Our Community

6.        Families with Young Children Experience Community Support

 

The same collaborative nature of the COVID-19 response extends to the way we work with partner agencies to address the goals in our Community Health Improvement Plan. We assist with bringing people and agencies together with the shared goal of promoting health and well-being in our communities. 

Within our local public health team, the six areas of public health responsibility and the goals in our Community Health Improvement Plan all inform and orient our day-to-day work as we:

  • Manage contracts with our healthcare partners to provide services such as WIC, Home Care, and Family Home Visiting
  • Facilitate the Public Health Fund grantmaking process
  • Seek grants from state, federal, and foundation partners to better meet locally determined needs
  • Collaborate with community coalitions, taskforces, and project-based initiatives
  • Develop initiatives and programming to meet local health needs

Some of the newest developments we are working on in our local public health team include:

  • Reviewing the 2017-2022 Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan with community partners, in part to better understand the impact of the pandemic on community in areas such as mental health and substance misuse
  • Beginning a Healthy Housing program, funded through the Minnesota Department of Health, to provide free assessments of the health of an individual’s home environment, as well as resources to improve the health and safety of the home
  • A project to assess early childhood exposure to environmental toxins in northeast Minnesota. This is part of a statewide initiative that is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2022. This project is also funded through the Minnesota Department of Health

Often the work of our local public health team happens behind the scenes, though this changed with the unprecedented nature of the pandemic response since 2020. As we begin to move back into other areas of public health work, we hope to continue to find ways to engage and serve our local communities while also making the dynamic nature of this work more visible to the public.

Learn more about public health services in Cook County and the Public Health and Human Services (PHHS) department at the June 21 PHHS Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Cook Commissioners Room. PHHS Board Meetings are available to livestream and view on the Cook County website at www.co.cook.mn.us. You can also find us Facebook @CookCountyPHHS and Instagram @cook_county_phhs to learn more about public health and human services resources in Cook County.

 

County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service

 

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