The Role of Health Departments in Prevention.

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Your local health department can be an excellent partner for your prevention efforts as the focus of public health is population versus individual health. While local health departments offer health services and programs that serve individuals, (family planning, sexual health testing,and vital statistics) the majority of their staff’s efforts are towards “big picture health” services and programs which address clean and safe water, healthy homes, infectious disease tracking, vaccine programs and access to health care. Many local health departments have divisions which coordinate prevention efforts often called Community Health Services, Community Engagement & Outreach, etc.

Enacted in September 2016, ORC 3701.981, requires local health departments and local “non-profit hospitals” to complete a community health assessment (known as a CHA), along with the identification of priority issues with developed community strategies. This plan is called the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) and is required to align with the Ohio Department of Health’s State Health Improvement plan (known as the SHIP). The process is completed, in partnership with community stakeholders and the public, on a three year cycle. If health departments were not previously engaged in prevention efforts, this legislation more formally required them to be a key player. Your community’s CHA should be a strong source of local data, identification of priority issues, existing community strategies, available resources, and identified gaps in services.

In our community, the majority of the county’s prevention efforts are housed within our local health department, including traffic and substance use prevention coalitions, school and community-based prevention initiatives, along with school and community based youth led prevention efforts. I encourage you to reach out to your local health department and non-profit hospital to see how you can begin or strengthen your partnership to positively impact your community.

Beth Thomas, MSW/LSW, OCPC, enjoys the opportunity to serve as an OCAM Coach. In her “day job”, she serves as the Director of Community Education & Engagement at the Fulton County Health Department, a small rural county in Northwest Ohio.

Need additional information? Please contact Beth at