Populations, Public Health, and the Law


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Examining the Components of Public Health

The activities within the public health and personal health care systems must be integrated and coordinated. A better job of integration and coordination needs to occur within each of these systems as well as between them. Functions of Public Health Agencies The public health system forges community partnerships and community action, providing leadership for the integration and coordination of the personal health care and public health systems.

Health departments and agencies can be objective, are publicly accountable, and have legal responsibility for those in their geographical jurisdictions.

Law and Health Policy

Improving and maintaining the public's health also requires a concern for social, economic, and environmental hazards that few individuals can avoid without strong governmental protective action. Prevention of the health consequences of workplace hazards, polluted air and water, and contamination of the food supply requires government action and intervention, as only government has the legal authority to require action. In order to understand the risks and health status of populations, data and surveillance systems must be maintained and improved.

The monitoring of health hazards, including newly emerging diseases, and the creation of standards of protection are important functions of public health agencies. Public health laboratories, other facilities, and the tools for carrying out health hazard appraisals are crucial for maintaining the critical surveillance systems. Public health research allows scientific advancement in protecting the public's health.

Many local health agencies have experience in working with their communities to develop public policies, plan improvements, implement new interventions, and translate research into community-appropriate programs. Within the public health system, governmental health agencies have a legal and constitutional responsibility for protecting the health of the public.

The participation of these agencies in such activities should result in the health care system placing greater emphasis on disease prevention and health promotion. Historically, most health agencies have not been able to act consistently upon such a broad interpretation of their role, nor have they been funded to do so. This results in fragmentation of services. To meet their goals, health agencies must first assess the state of health of their communities, identify variations in health status, and analyze the factors responsible for poor health.

The Goals and Objectives of Public Health Initiatives

Interventions then must be designed to address these factors. To do so requires a three-pronged approach: developing appropriate social and public policies; developing community-based prevention activities; and assuring the delivery of comprehensive and high-quality personal preventive services.

The social and public policies will need to ensure adequate food and shelter, clean air and water, and protection from workplace hazards. Community-based health promotion programs must be planned with the participation of the community to address its priority areas. Personal preventive services should be part of comprehensive care and meet the standards developed by the U.

Preventive Services Task Force. Rapid changes in the organization and delivery of personal health services, specifically the growth of for-profit medical care and managed care organizations, affect access for vulnerable populations, the health outcomes of the general public, and the activities and abilities of local public health agencies to operate.


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Public health agencies have a critical new role to play in overseeing these changes in the organization and delivery of services, assuring capacity to care for all populations, monitoring, evaluating, and improving quality, and understanding the relationship between changes in health services delivery and the public's health. Finally, the effectiveness of these solutions must be reviewed and modified in the light of what was learned. Government health agencies will need to develop comprehensive plans working collaboratively with the community, social agencies, and the personal health care system, including both the public and private sector.

Public Health Agency Roles: Public health functions and agencies exist on the federal, state and local levels. The division of responsibilities and authority varies considerably by state. Nevertheless, at each level of government, the public health agency is responsible for the following essential health services:.

The agency must have sufficient capacity and financial support to carry out these functions. The Federal Government's Role is to:. National funding can provide resources necessary for improving the public's health as well as assurance of equity across all the states, so that a person's health doesn't suffer because of his or her place of residence. Past federal funding has concentrated on categorical programs intended to deal with specific problems.

Some of these programs have been very important and successful.

However, categorical programs are competitive and not available to all communities. Reliance on such single-focus programs for financing has sometimes left public health agencies with insufficient resources to deal with health threats not included in those categorical programs, and little funding for broad health promotion and prevention efforts. Broader funding, such as a general operations budget, is necessary at all levels to provide the public health system with ongoing capacity to monitor, anticipate, and respond to health problems.

Public health services should be considered part of the social safety net which is the responsibility of government to provide for all people. Stable funding is also necessary.


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  8. One way of ensuring stable funding is by requiring organizations and institutions paying for personal health services to support public health in proportion to the amount they spend on personal health care. State governments have carried a major responsibility for governmental health activities. The scope of these activities, and the organizational entity within the state government responsible for them, varies from state to state. Variation among the more than 3, local public health agencies is even greater.

    Several political jurisdictions may be served by a jointly sponsored multi-county or city-county agency. The relationship of these agencies to their state agencies is complementary, and varies widely. The local health agency's scope of programs is generally more limited than the state's and the extent of its autonomy varies, although local health agencies remain the point of service for most public health programs and functions. A stronger government health system which ensures the provision of essential public health services and works actively with the personal health system to promote and protect health will result in improved health and cost efficiency across the nation.

    Federal, state, and local public health agencies must: define standards for public health that improve the overall health of the population and provide strategies for achieving greater health system efficiency and effectiveness;. Existing models need to be utilized and new models need to be developed that go beyond the provision of personal health care to enhance the health status of populations. These models require particular emphasis on culturally sensitive personal health delivery systems.

    One such model is Community-Oriented Primary Care COPC , which designs and evaluates community health interventions as an integral part of the provision of primary medical care. Many community migrant health centers and other models of integrated practice have developed COPC practices in which personal health services and public health interventions are combined in one organizational model.

    Such programs have great potential to develop more effective health promotion, social support, and personal health care approaches to all populations. Even when there are no financial barriers to care, private providers may not meet the needs of all residents or provide the special services and expertise required by high risk populations that are now offered by many public health programs and agencies.

    Local public health agencies and other community-based organizations may therefore need to continue to serve the needs of these persons, in addition to the agencies' broader role in the health care system as a whole. Particular attention must be paid to assure personal health care for indigent persons not eligible for Medicaid.

    What is Public Health?

    Examining the Components of Public Health

    The Federal Government's Role is to: provide leadership, technical assistance, and funds for the nation; create national standards as needed and a national framework for their implementation; assure national data, monitoring, and surveillance systems; and engage in research and epidemiological studies. Action by the Public Health Community APHA and the public health community should encourage and assist in: Defining the role of the government with respect to health and strengthening the role of federal, state, and local health agencies.

    Establishing a leadership role for the public health community in decisions that shape the personal health care system and models of health care delivery. New ways of making policy and of organizing the purchase and delivery of personal health care are needed, and public health officials should have a major role in developing them to ensure health promotion and prevention.

    This requires a central role in the allocation of capital resources and in ensuring the adequacy of the primary care infrastructure and the distribution of adequate primary care personnel to currently underserved areas. Other groups who provided input and support for the reports and related resources include the Healthy People Federal Interagency Workgroup FIW , the Healthy People topic area workgroups , and the project partners.

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    What is Public Health

    Search HealthyPeople. Law and Health Policy. Law and Health Policy Resources Project partners are working with subject matter experts and federal stakeholders to develop a series of topic-specific reports and other evidence-based products such as infographics and success stories, or "Bright Spots".

    Learn more and access resources by topic: Nutrition and Weight Status. Footnotes 1. Domestic public health achievements team.

    Populations, Public Health, and the Law Populations, Public Health, and the Law
    Populations, Public Health, and the Law Populations, Public Health, and the Law
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    Populations, Public Health, and the Law Populations, Public Health, and the Law
    Populations, Public Health, and the Law Populations, Public Health, and the Law
    Populations, Public Health, and the Law Populations, Public Health, and the Law
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