The de Beaumont Foundation is pleased to introduce this column, titled “Getting Practical,” in which we will bring you perspectives from leaders in many sectors who share our goal of creating the social and economic conditions shown to improve everyone's health. We believe that improving population health requires both policies and partnerships—neither of which is possible without a skilled workforce practicing in strong governmental public health agencies. Carol Woltring and Lloyd Novick, the editor of this journal, said it best in 2003: “The workforce is the most essential element in our collective efforts in assuring the public's health.”1 They were right then, and they are still right today.
We hope the views in this series of columns will help state and local governmental health agencies become the best possible versions of themselves. Each column will highlight what works and share strategies that are immediately applicable to public health practice.
The de Beaumont Foundation does not just talk about the needs of the workforce. We take pride in our focus on creating practical tools that help governmental public health agencies forge partnerships with other sectors and advance policies that can make a lasting difference. One of the reasons we focus on tools, partnerships, and policy is because they have broad applications and can make an impact long after our funding ends.
Our orientation to practical tools to solve problems is inspired by our founder, Pierre (Pete) de Beaumont, who many people know as the founder of the Brookstone Company. What is not as well known is that Pete was a Harvard-educated mechanical engineer who worked at the Packard Motorcar company, served the US Naval Reserve during World War II, and had a successful career in the automotive industry. In 1965, he and his wife founded the Brookstone Company as a mail-order business. He was a problem solver, an inventor, and an entrepreneur who identified unmet needs and created practical tools to address them. Like Pete, the Foundation that bears his name looks to the future, anticipates needs, and applies good engineering principles. The entrepreneurial problem solving synonymous with Pete is clear in the Foundation's initiatives, 3 of which are described as follows:
Public Health Workforce Interests in Needs Survey
In 2014, the Foundation and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials created the Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS), the only nationally representative data source of the governmental public health workforce. PH WINS is a survey of state and local public health agency workers that collects data on the demographics of the workforce and captures perspectives on key issues such as workforce engagement and morale, training needs, worker empowerment, and emerging concepts in public health.2 PH WINS provides information critical to understanding and improving the workforce that delivers public health services nationally, as well as actionable data for participating health agencies to address crosscutting training needs and skill gaps.
Findings from PH WINS 2014, many of which can be found as a supplement to the November/December 2015 issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, have been used by participating health agencies to better understand and address workforce development, as well as federal and foundation partners to help inform future investments in public health workforce development.3 In 2017, the state survey was repeated and the National Association of County and City Health Officials joined us to create the first national workforce benchmark for local governmental public health agencies. These data will be released in a forthcoming Journal of Public Health Management and Practice supplement in March. The Foundation plans to field this survey again in 2020. We expect this will provide unprecedented, longitudinal data on the governmental public health workforce as well as an opportunity to measure the impact of workforce initiatives from federal and philanthropic funders.
Public Health Reaching Across Sectors
The de Beaumont Foundation partnered with the Aspen Institute to create the PHRASES (Public Health Reaching Across Sectors) initiative to help governmental public health leaders craft better and more effective messages for use when engaging other sectors. We are studying the perceptions of public health among leaders in business, housing, and education and using that information to create communications tools that public health leaders can use to work more successfully with other sectors. We think of it as a communications toolkit for the chief health strategist.4
The CityHealth initiative embodies the de Beaumont Foundation's core belief that policy is one of the most powerful tools to improve health. Jointly funded by the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, CityHealth provides public health leaders with a package of 9 evidence-based policies impacting workplaces and schools to housing and public transportation to strengthen the health of communities. While the primary goal is to advance these policies in communities nationwide, CityHealth also gives public health leaders an entry point to establish relationships with their local elected officials, which we anticipate will have benefits beyond the 9 recommended policies.
As we continue to promote policy, partnerships, and the public health system, we will champion the critical role that governmental public health must play in achieving our nation's optimal health; we will shine a light on what is working; and we will seek ways to support and strengthen that “most essential element in our collective efforts in assuring the public's health.”1
1. Woltring CS, Novick LF. Public health workforce: infrastructure's keystone. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2003;9(6):438–439.
2. Sellers K, Leider JP, Harper E, et al, The Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey: the first national survey of state health agency employees. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2015;21(suppl 6):S13–S27.
3. Smith KA, Goekler SF, Williams A, Sellers K. ASTHO affiliates find value in PH WINS. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2015;21(suppl 6):S168–S169.
4. DeSalvo KB, O'Carroll PW, Koo D, Auerbach JM, Monroe JA. Public Health 3.0: time for an upgrade. Am J Public Health. 2016;106(4):621–622.