Guest Opinions

Guest opinion: National Public Health Week is upon us

Dr. Amy Person, left, Benton-Franklin Health District health officer, and Heather Hill, program supervision, hold various vaccine options for the flu.
Dr. Amy Person, left, Benton-Franklin Health District health officer, and Heather Hill, program supervision, hold various vaccine options for the flu. TriCities

Despite the advances in public health during the past century, Americans live shorter lives and have more health problems than many other countries. April 3-9 is National Public Health Week, and this year’s theme is Healthiest Nation 2030.

Generation Public Health’s goal is to get everyone healthier in one generation. It seems like a lofty goal until we remember that it’s only taken 20 years for obesity rates in the United States to nearly double from 16 percent to 30 percent. Join with the Benton-Franklin Health District and public health departments around the state and country in challenging the underlying causes of poor health and reversing this trend.

If we’re going to change the health of a generation, we’ll need to close the gaps in health, whether in our health behaviors, our health care system, and the communities we live, work, play, walk and breathe in. Health is affected, not just by medicine or genetics, but by education, socioeconomics and the physical environment. We should be promoting health in the policies we adopt at work, school and in our neighborhoods so that it’s easy to be healthy.

Even when that’s not possible, we need to understand the health impact of decisions made about how we design our communities or what we ask our employees to do at the worksite. A strong public health system is also needed to help build healthier communities.

At the Benton-Franklin Health District and at the Washington State Department of Health, we’re working to ensure that everyone has access to the tools they need to achieve their highest health potential. That includes training community health workers to assist patients with navigating the health care system, supporting policies that provide safe ways to walk or bike to work and school, promoting breastfeeding-friendly hospitals and workplaces, or analyzing how population trends like poverty influence health. In Washington, every resident should have access to the core public health services that can keep them safe and healthy.

This legislative session, a coalition of health groups and public health leaders developed a proposal to reinvest in our crumbling public health system. It’s not just about infusing money; it’s also about modernizing public health’s service delivery and infrastructure so it is effective and efficient.

The proposal identifies core public health services that should be available to every resident in our state, regardless of where you live. It also asks the state to make a critical down payment to begin filling the most critical service gaps, for things like disease prevention and response that can help avoid costly epidemics.

This down payment from the state would also streamline and modernize the public health system by designating services that can be effectively and efficiently shared between local health departments. That means multiple health departments across different counties and cities could share staff resources and services in key areas, reducing redundancy while increasing coverage.

With support of the Legislature, Washington can rebuild our essential public health services so that we can monitor, respond and prevent public health emergencies as well as the daily barriers that stand in the way of good health. We must keep our residents — in every corner of the state — safe and healthy. Other states are rising to the challenge, and it’s time we do the same

Celebrate National Public Health week and let’s meet the challenge of the healthiest nation in one generation. Enjoy that last sip of your morning coffee or tea so you’ll be alert and ready for the challenge. While you’re doing that, also take a moment to appreciate that, thanks to public health, the coffee will be safe, whether you brewed it at home using water from the tap or ordered it from your neighborhood barista on the way to work.

Dr. Amy Person is health officer with the Benton-Franklin Health District.