Three Portage Health Departments Examining Enhanced Collaboration, Assisted by Kent State
The college’s Center for Public Policy and Health (CPPH) is assisting the cities of Ravenna and Kent, along with the Portage County Health Department, in examining cross-jurisdictional sharing arrangements to enable greater protection and promotion of public health. Cross-jurisdictional sharing could permit health departments to split the cost of programs and services, such as immunizations, health education and disaster preparedness and response. This initiative has received $125,000 in support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). In addition, the Ravenna and Portage County health departments have been granted $82,000 from the State of Ohio’s Local Government Innovation Fund (LGIF) to explore consolidation, with Kent State’s help.
The work builds on efforts of the Task Force for Improving Public Health in Portage County, convened in 2011 and composed of representatives from the cities and county, along with other public health stakeholders. The task force discussed and developed future directions for improving the efficiency, effectiveness, capacity and performance of the county’s public health system. Ken Slenkovich, assistant dean, operations and community relations, advised the task force, with support from Kent State students and staff. “We recommended that the three departments explore ways to expand cooperative arrangements to save money while maintaining quality of service,” he says.
The work of the task force formed a foundation for the two newly funded studies, both of which are being directed by John Hoornbeek, Ph. D., associate professor of Health Policy & Management and head of the CPPH. “We’ll help facilitate discussions among the three entities, supply technical assistance and provide analytical support for decision-making,” he explains.
The RWJF study will identify and define cooperative methods of sharing resources across boundaries. Anticipated project deliverables include an evaluation of existing collaboration among the departments, a strategic action plan, implementation steps and outreach and communication frameworks. The two-year RWJF grant is administered through the Center for Sharing Public Health Services, a national initiative to find shared solutions and innovative approaches to service delivery. This center is managed by the Kansas Health Institute, with support from the RWJF. The Portage County project is one of 16 in 14 states – the only one in Ohio among the 16 nationwide – and Kent State is the only university involved. Hoornbeek and Robert Howard, Portage County Board of Health member; Jeff Neistadt, Kent health commissioner; and Kelly Engelhart, Ravenna director of public service, attended a shared-services learning community meeting March 13-14 in Kansas City to kick off the study, with representatives of the other 15 projects.
The LGIF grant will help the Ravenna and Portage County health departments assess the feasibility of and create an action plan for consolidating the two departments. “We’ll be using and expanding upon a framework developed in a 2010 project which assisted the Akron and Summit County health departments to consolidate,” explains Hoornbeek. Kent State will also identify areas where improvements are likely to be needed to achieve accreditation by the Public Health Accreditation Board, a national body that establishes standards for capabilities and services and oversees a voluntary accreditation program. Team members in addition to Hoornbeek are John Staley, Ph.D., assistant professor, Health Policy & Management; Joshua Filla, outreach program officer; and Amy Budnik, doctoral student.
These two new studies are in addition to the CPPH’s effort to evaluate the impact on expenditures and services of 20 public health department consolidations occurring in Ohio since 2001. This $25,000 project is a 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 project also is underwritten by the RWJF, the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted solely to the public’s health.