Local Health Departments Showcase Public Health Programs and Build Relationships with Congressional Staff

Tri-County Health Department

Tri-County Health Department staff meet with Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO).

By Eli Briggs, Senior Director of Government Affairs, NACCHO

For many local health departments (LHDs), communicating with Members of Congress and Congressional staff about their work and the need for federal support is part of how they protect the public’s health. Below NACCHO profiles two LHDs that have successfully taken on this challenge.

This summer, the Oklahoma City/County Health Department met with Steve Waskiewicz, Representative Tom Cole’s (R-OK) senior legislative assistant as well as Will McPherson, Oklahoma field representative. Because Rep. Cole is Chairman of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Subcommittee, it is important that he and his staff understand what LHDs do and how the federal government can support them. Rep. Cole toured the Oklahoma City/County Health Department earlier in 2016 and met with Gary Cox, Health Director and Past President of NACCHO as well as other senior staff.

According to Health Director Cox, “We had the opportunity to talk to Chairman Cole and his staff about Zika funding and emergency preparedness in general. We also discussed some of the cutting edge initiatives we are engaged with like using public health as a convener for community partnerships that can make a culture of health the standard.  One example of this is partnering with local education at all levels to have a more educated and thus healthier population. We stressed the importance of integrating public health services into both primary and behavioral health services, working with the local food bank and others like the YWCA, creating an environment where resources are available to those that need them and social determinants of health are met in a holistic and convenient way for the client.”

LHD staff also discussed the use of health information technology that captures data related to the social determinants of health and use of the Community Health Worker (CHW) Hospital Pilot program. Use of the CHW in emergency room settings is a critical component in hospital care coordination, and is showing an impact on the bottom line for those systems. It is important to show elected officials the value that an LHD brings in being a conduit for positive change in a community and state.

In August, the Tri-County Health Department in Colorado (outside Denver) met with Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) and provided a tour of their facilities. Discussions with Rep. Coffman and his staff touched on a range of issues including Zika, mental health, substance abuse and nutrition legislation. Executive Director John Douglas notes “Our visit provided a great opportunity to show Rep. Coffman and his staff how public health in the trenches works, through both direct provision of services such as WIC and family planning, as well as growing efforts in the community where aligning partnerships to address issues such as mental health and the opiate abuse epidemic are critical.  It was impressive to see how the level of interest by the Congressman seemed to grow over the course of our 90 minute visit, and we believe that a strong basis for future dialogue has been initiated.”

NACCHO encourages all members to develop relationships with Members of Congress and staff to highlight the work LHDs do to improve and protect the health of every member in their community.

NACCHO’s website has the following resources to help members learn about legislative advocacy and engage Members of Congress and their staff:

Contact Ian Goldstein, NACCHO Government Affairs Specialist, for more information.