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Understanding the Financing and Functions of Metropolitan Health Departments: A Key to Improved Public Health Response

Plough, Alonzo PhD, MPH

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: September-October 2004 - Volume 10 - Issue 5 - p 421–427
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Addressing the financing challenges of the governmental public health system requires a more detailed understanding of the specific role and functions of local health departments, particularly for metropolitan health departments. Many current studies and reports mistakenly aggregate all 3,000 local health departments as a single unit of analysis and, as a result, fail to highlight the increasingly important role of metropolitan health departments. These large departments represent less than 10% of local health departments, but at the same time, serve more than 60% of the US population. The largest 25 metropolitan health departments serve jurisdictions averaging 2 million persons; a larger population than 14 of the states. This article presents a description of the capacity and organizational characteristics of metropolitan health departments, the essential role these agencies play in the preparedness and health disparities areas, and the very different public health financing issues that are raised when the policy focus is on the form of local public health practice serving most of the population.

To address the financing challenges of the governmental public health system, one must be able to understand the specific role and functions of local health departments. This article describes the often overlooked role of metropolitan health departments and the very different financial issues that are raised when the policy focus is on the form of local public health practice serving most of the population.

Director and Health Officer, Public Health, Seattle and King County and Professor, Health Services, School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of Washington (Plough).

Correspondence to: Alonzo Plough, PhD, MPH, Public Health, Seattle and King County, 999 3rd Ave, Suite 1200, Seattle, WA 98104-4039 (e-mail: Alonzo.Plough@metrokc.gov).

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.