Public Health: Not Just for Pandemics
By: Rinda Davis, BSN, MPH, RN, Assistant Director of Health
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, public health systems have been thrust into the spotlight. This platform has allowed public health entities, like Springfield-Greene County Health, to step forward in communities in ways they couldn’t prior to the pandemic.
Public health systems can now point a captive audience toward other health issues and solutions beyond the COVID-19 emergency. As we do so, it’s important to step back and understand the foundations of what public health is, and what public health isn’t.
What public health is:
The CDC Foundation defines public health as:
“The science of protecting and improving the health of people and their communities. This work is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing and responding to infectious diseases.”
Simply, public health is concerned with the health and wellness of entire communities. A “community” can be as small as a neighborhood or as large as the world. Springfield-Greene County Health serves the city and county population, and many surrounding counties in the region utilize our resources.
Public health entities provide protection to communities through programs, services, research and communication. The relationship between a public health entity and its community is paramount in times of crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, but also in everyday life. Springfield-Greene County Health, for example, aids the public through:
· Connecting citizens to health services.
· Food Safety programming and restaurant inspections.
· Reporting daily pollen counts during the spring and summer.
· Providing vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Influenza, Shingles and others.
· Researching and reporting health assessments to determine community focus areas.
· STI testing.
· Monitoring, identifying and investigating potential health threats.
· Partnerships with WIC and NEST to provide resources and necessities for infants and mothers.
· Health equity education.
· Developing policies to promote a healthy community.
· Animal Control and Environmental Compliance programs.
· And much more.
Services like these are provided in Health Departments across the country, and the public health system works together at all levels to assure communities are receiving beneficial services and information. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is the federal arm of public health, and it contains operating divisions like the National Institute of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. These federal divisions provide guidance for state and local public health entities, like the Health Department.
What public health is not:
Public health is not clinical treatment, like a person would receive in a hospital or doctor’s office. However, public health entities and healthcare systems often work in tandem to provide access to care, education and resources.
Think of it this way: The primary role of public health is to educate the public with the goal of preventing illness or injury. The primary role of clinical care is to treat patients when they become sick or injured. Both systems have some crossover, and a community is ultimately strengthened by a partnership between public health and clinical care.
Most importantly, public health is needed more than just in times of health crisis. Every day, people in our community seek information, education and services from the Health Department. We are committed to being here for our community, along with our many healthcare and community partners who share the same commitment for community wellbeing.
Our mission is this: That we can protect and improve community health through education, collaboration and prevention. That way, people can live longer, healthier, happier lives.