By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Public health services in Hill County have scored well on a new national assessment.
The assessment, the National Public Health Performance Standards Program, was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The program created an evaluation for state health departments, local health departments and local health governing boards.
In July, Hill County became the first county in the nation to take part in the assessment, after Montana became the first state.
County nurse Cindy Smith was trained to administer the assessment, and was joined by trained representatives from the state.
For the evaluation, members of the county's health and social services communities, as well as representatives from the broader community, including business and government, gathered in a room. They were asked to come to a consensus on questions concerning 10 essential public health services. They included planning for emergencies, monitoring public health, enforcing public health laws, using new technology and educating the public.
"We tried to get a wide variety of people" to appear, Smith said. They had 22 participants in all.
The evaluation of states includes a few questions particular to state health departments, but generally looks like the county evaluation.
"It turned out pretty well, good compared to the state," Smith said.
The county scored highest for effectiveness in diagnosing and investigating health problems, with a score of 95 out of 100, putting it at the "fully met" level. The state received its highest score in this category as well, with a 65, reaching the substantially met level. The county had three scores over 65.
The county scored worst in the area of research for innovative solutions, with a 41, meaning partially met. This score was surprisingly high, Smith said.
"I thought maybe we hadn't fully met some of the things that the health care commission thinks we're meeting," Smith said. Research in particular is an area that the county does not have funding for, she added.
The state scored lowest on assuring a competent workforce and on self-evaluation, falling in the partially met level for both, with scores of 22 and 21. The county's score fell in the substantially met level for both of these with scores of 60 and 68.
Hill County was eager to complete this assessment because it has recently adopted a new method for improving public health services. The method, Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnership, calls for four different assessments.
The National Public Health Performance Standards Program assessment was one of the four. Completing it is useful for creating new strategies, and also is an asset when the county is applying for grants, Smith said.
Using the MAPP method has already helped the county form a health consortium.
"Everyone competing for the same dollar isn't doing the community any good," Smith said. With the consortium, different health and social service organizations can support each other's efforts, she said.
Last week the county was disappointed to learn it did not get a grant it had applied for from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. The grant would have helped the county fill two gaps, providing money for mental health and dental services. One reason the administration gave for denying the application was that the proposed programs would not have provided a very large number of services.
"For us, it would be from no services to 250 dental visits and 250 mental health visits," Smith said.
The other problem was a lack of partnership. Originally the health consortium had included representatives of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation. Those members dropped out, Smith said.
"They were afraid we'd use their numbers and not service their population," Smith said. "We need to sit down and find out how to collaborate better."
The head of Rocky Boy's health board could not be reached for comment today.
For now, the Hill County Health Department is "trying to fit together pieces from different grants," Smith said.
A post-9/11 grant has been a big piece of that. The county received a federal grant to help prevent and respond to bioterrorism.
"This has put in the infrastructure to be ready for other sorts of events," Smith said.
The County Health Department expects to have a Web site available soon, a result of the bioterrorism grant, and will meet again in October to begin planning new grant applications, Smith said.