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Assessing Relationships Between State and Local Public Health Organizations: Evidence From the NACCHO 2008 Profile of Local Health Departments

Parker, Andrew M. PhD; Shelton, Shoshana R. MPH; Morganti, Kristy Gonzalez PhD; Nelson, Christopher PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: March/April 2012 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 156–159
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e318223b138
Research Brief Report

Public health systems vary by degree of centralization, reflecting the distribution of authority, responsibility, and effort between state and local public health agencies. We analyzed data from the 2008 National Association of City and County Health Officials Profile of Local Health Departments survey, and propose an improved composite measure of centralization that can be computed for all local health departments within a state, as opposed to a single state respondent, as done in 1998. While most states' structures (79.5%) are decentralized, the new measure presents a continuum from highly decentralized to highly centralized. The measure was internally consistent (Cronbach α = .87) and correlated somewhat strongly with the centralization classification from the 1998 survey (Kendall's τ correlation = .62, P < .001), suggesting that a stable centralization construct can be reliably determined. This new centralization variable can facilitate more nuanced studies of public health systems, and inform policy design and implementation.

This study assesses relationships between state and local public health organizations, providing evidence from the NACCHO 2008 profile of local health departments.

RAND Corporation, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Drs Parker and Morganti and Ms Shelton); and RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California (Dr Nelson).

Correspondence: Andrew M. Parker, PhD, RAND Corporation, 4570 Fifth Ave, Ste 600, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (

The authors thank Katheryn Giglio and Michelle Horner for their guidance in the preparation of this article. This research was funded by the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.