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College Studying Effects of Health Department Consolidation

Posted Oct, 31, 2012

The college has a major new assignment to evaluate the effects of consolidation on 12 recent Ohio health department mergers in a study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  The project is collaboration between Kent State and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, under the Ohio Research Association for Public Health Improvement (RAPHI), which was organized by Case Western Reserve University.  The partners will examine recent local health department consolidations to assess the impact on expenditures, workforce and services.  Some $25,000 in support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation underwrites the project.
 
Dr. John Hoornbeek, associate professor of Health Policy & Management, explains that there are two major pieces to the study.  “Kent State will conduct interviews with representatives of the 12 Ohio health departments which have consolidated since 2005 to document motivations, experiences and perceived results,” he says.  “The University of Arkansas will analyze staffing and administrative expenditure data from pre- and post-consolidated health departments to understand differences,” continues Hoornbeek.  “This is a ‘quick strike’ or ‘rapid research’ project,” he says, with a report to be issued during the first half of 2013.
 
Hoornbeek sees two trends driving current interests in Ohio health department consolidations and collaborations.  One trend is increased desire for meeting accreditation standards.  “The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) has established a voluntary accreditation program for local health departments, setting standards for capabilities and services,” Hoornbeek says.  “Many departments are coming to the realization that they may not have sufficient resources to meet those standards on their own,” he observes.  A second trend is an impetus from the state to streamline local government services, given that Ohio ranks sixth nationally in number of local government units, including 125 health departments.  “There’s a strong emphasis, supported by funding from the Ohio Development Services Agency, to look at ways local entities can coordinate and consolidate,” Hoornbeek explains.  “It’s a major push in Ohio right now to strengthen local government infrastructures, enhance service quality and eliminate duplication,” he says.
 
Indeed, Hoornbeek has recently conferred with a number of local health departments on consolidation studies.  For Summit County Public Health, Hoornbeek, College of Public Health Outreach Program Officer Joshua Filla and doctoral students Tegan Beechey and Aimee Budnik examined the year-one impact of consolidation of the Summit County and Akron and Barberton city health departments.  In addition, Hoornbeek, Filla, Assistant Dean Kenneth Slenkovich and master’s student Elizabeth James are assisting the Portage County Health Department and the Kent and Ravenna health departments in assessing opportunities for greater collaboration.  Hoornbeek and Slenkovich have had interest from entities in Stark County as well.
 
“Local health departments in Ohio were established many years ago – largely to combat infectious disease,” observes Hoornbeek.  “But now, there is greater concern about  chronic disease, infrastructures to support healthy environments and habits and the coordination of responses to major emergencies,” he says.
 
“With the new College of Public Health, Kent State is well-positioned to conduct externally oriented work with communities in our region to address these and other priority public healthconcerns,” Hoornbeek concludes.