Objectives: The purpose of this study was to gain an empirical understanding of the types of allocation decisions local health officials (LHOs) make and the factors that influence those allocation decisions.
Design: We conducted a national survey of LHOs in the United States in 2008 to 2009. The sample was stratified by the size of the population served by the department. We merged our data with data from the 2008 National Association of County and City Health Officials Profile survey. Descriptive statistics were generated using weighted data.
Results: Our final sample size was 608 respondents, with an average of 10 years experience. The LHOs reported little shifting of resources among population groups but greater capacity to redirect staffing time. Less than half of LHOs reported using economic analyses or conducting needs assessments when setting priorities. Having sole provider status in a community strongly influenced LHOs' allocation decisions. In addition, the effectiveness of activities, previous budget allocations, and input from boards of health were influential factors in allocation decisions. Public expectations were moderately to very influential, but direct public input had a low impact on allocation decisions.
Conclusions: Survey findings provide a clearer understanding of how LHOs fulfill their obligations as stewards of public health resources and ensure effective activities and access to needed services. It may be useful to assess the value of more structured allocation methods (eg, decision frameworks) in the allocation process. Expanding opportunities for public engagement in priority setting may also be valuable for difficult allocation decisions.