Background: This study examined jurisdictional, organizational, and structural characteristics associated with capacity to deliver 10 essential public health services (EPHS) in Massachusetts, a state where a majority of local public health departments serve small municipalities.
Design: A survey was administered to local health directors or board of health chairs.
Measures: The main outcome of the study was capacity to perform EPHS, measured by a 25-item screening tool.
Results: Seventy percent of the 351 boards of health in Massachusetts participated in the study. Greatest capacity was demonstrated in EPHS 2 (Diagnose and Investigate Health Problems) and EPHS 6 (Enforce Laws and Regulations). The capacity to perform the 8 other essential services was limited. Bivariate analysis indicates that overall capacity to perform EPHS is significantly associated with population size, poverty rate, annual municipal budget, and perceived understanding of the roles and responsibilities of local boards of health among elected municipal officials. The latter was the strongest predictor of overall capacity in multivariate analysis.
Conclusions: Findings are aligned with studies examining factors associated with capacity to perform EPHS in large public health jurisdictions. The results suggest that one strategy for improving capacity to perform EPHS in smaller jurisdictions is to educate elected municipal leaders about the responsibilities of local health officials. Clarification regarding the role small jurisdictions with limited resources can play to ensure the equitable delivery of essential public health services and a strategy for measuring their contributions is important, especially as the national public health accreditation program gains momentum in the United States.