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Using More Activities to Address Health Disparities: Local Health Departments and Their Top Executives

Yang, Youngran PhD, MPH, RN; Bekemeier, Betty PhD, MPH, FAAN

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice: March/April 2013 - Volume 19 - Issue 2 - p 153–161
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e318252ee41
Original Articles

Objective: Local health departments (LHDs) are expected to address health disparities. Little is known, however, about what factors influence the activities used by an LHD in addressing health disparities. The objective of this study was to examine factors such as an LHD's leader, jurisdiction, and organizational characteristics that could be considered to influence the approaches used within LHDs to address health disparities.

Design: We used a cross-sectional, 2-level, mixed linear model with secondary LHD data nested within states. National data were used, depicting activities conducted by LHDs.

Study Population: The sample consisted of the 2332 LHDs that responded to the National Association of County and City Health Officials's 2008 National Profile of LHDs Survey.

Measures: The activities used by LHDs in addressing health disparities were depicted as respondents indicating that they had employed 0 to 8 types of the activities listed in the Profile Survey in relation to addressing disparities.

Results: Local health departments significantly vary in the number of types of activities used in addressing health disparities. Significant associations exist between more types of health disparities activities used by LHDs and LHDs having a “top executive” with more education, clinical training, and/or less than 5 years of experience as the LHD's top executive. Local health departments with a jurisdiction that is urban, with a higher percentage of black residents, with a higher percentage of Hispanic residents, with higher per capita LHD expenditures, and/or that has conducted a community health assessment in last 3 years were also significantly associated with higher numbers of types of health disparities activities used.

Conclusions: Local context and the characteristics of an LHD's top executive appear to be important factors related to the activities used to address health disparities across LHDs. A focus on the competencies and development of LHD leaders may be important in promoting LHD engagement in a wider range of approaches toward reducing disparities.

Little is known about what factors influence the activities used by a local health department in addressing health disparities. The study aimed to examine factors such as a local health department's leader, jurisdiction, and organizational characteristics that could be considered to influence the approaches used within local health departments to address health disparities.

Department of Psychosocial and Community Health, University of Washington School of Nursing (Drs Yang and Bekemeier), and Department of Health Services, University of Washington School of Public Health (Dr Bekemeier), Seattle.

Correspondence: Youngran Yang, PhD, MPH, RN, Department of Psychosocial and Community Health, University of Washington School of Nursing, Box 357263, Seattle, WA 98195 (holyyang@gmail.com).

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.