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Resource Allocation and Funding Challenges for Regional Local Health Departments in Nebraska

Chen, Li-Wu MHSA, PhD; Jacobson, Janelle MPH, CHES; Roberts, Sara MPH; Palm, David PhD

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: March/April 2012 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 141–147
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e3182294fff
Research Articles

Objective: This study examined the mechanism of resource allocation among member counties and the funding challenges of regional health departments (RHDs) in Nebraska.

Design and Study Setting: In 2009, we conducted a qualitative case study of 2 Nebraska RHDs to gain insight into their experiences of making resource allocation decisions and confronting funding challenges. The 2 RHD sites were selected for this case study on the basis of their heterogeneity in terms of population distribution in member counties. Sixteen semistructured in-person interviews were conducted with RHD directors, staff, and board of health members. Interview data were coded and analyzed using NVivo qualitative analysis software (QSR International [Americas] Inc., Cambridge, MA).

Results: Our findings suggested that the directors of RHDs play an integral role in making resource allocation decisions on the basis of community needs, not on a formula or on individual county population size. Interviewees also reported that the size of the vulnerable population served by the RHD had a significant impact on the level of resources for RHD's programs. The RHD's decisions about resource allocation were also dependent on the amount and type of resources received from the state. Interviewees identified inadequacy and instability of funding as the 2 main funding challenges for their RHD. These challenges negatively impacted workforce capacity and the long-term sustainability of some programs.

Conclusions: Regional health departments may not benefit from better leveraging resources and building a stronger structural capacity unless the issues of funding inadequacy and instability are addressed. Strategies that can be used by RHDs to address these funding challenges include seeking grants to support programs, leveraging existing resources, and building community partnerships to share resources. Future research is needed to identify RHDs' optimal workforce capacity, required funding level, and potential funding mechanisms.

This study examines the mechanism of resource allocation among member counties and the funding challenges of regional health departments (RHDs) in Nebraska.

Department of Health Services Research and Administration (Dr Chen and Ms Jacobson), College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha; Bureau of Local and Rural Health (Ms Roberts), Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Topeka; and Office of Community Health and Performance Management (Dr Palm), Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Lincoln.

Correspondence: Li-Wu Chen, MHSA, PhD, Department of Health Services Research & Administration, College of Public Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center, 984350 Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, NE 68198 (

Support for this project was provided by a Public Health Systems Research grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The authors thank the 2 Nebraska's local health departments and local boards of health for their participation in this study. They also thank Michelle Lampman, Nicole Vanosdel, and Mona Sorouri for their assistance with the project and Sue Nardie for her help with editing this article.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.