Yet Another Reminder of Why We Need a Regional Health Department


An announcement this month from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) serves to reinforce one of the key reasons that RenewLV supports the establishment of a regional health department, which would encompass all of Lehigh and Northampton counties.

On February 9, HHS announced a $750 million investment in prevention and public health for 2011. Building on a similar $500 million investment last year, the program is funded through the Prevention and Public Health Fund, an important component of the Affordable Care Act. According to the HHS press release, the $750 million, which will be distributed mainly through grants, is broken down into four categories:

  • Community Prevention ($298 million): These funds will be used to help promote health and wellness in local communities, including efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use; improve nutrition and increase physical activity to prevent obesity; and coordinate and focus efforts to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
  • Clinical Prevention ($182 million): These funds will help improve access to preventive care, including increasing awareness of the new prevention benefits provided under the new health care law.  They will also help increase availability and use of immunizations, and help integrate behavioral health services into primary care settings.
  • Public Health Infrastructure ($137 million): These funds will help state and local health departments meet 21st century challenges, including investments in information technology and training for the public health workforce to enable detection and response to infectious disease outbreaks and other health threats.
  • Research and Tracking ($133 million): These funds will help collect data to monitor the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the health of Americans and identify and disseminate evidence-based recommendations on important public health challenges. 

There are two things worth noting from the press release. First, a grant within the “Public Health Infrastructure” category could be used to help offset the initial investment required to create a regional health department. While this is just speculation for now (specific details regarding the grants are not easily accessible), it seems likely that such a project to improve local public health infrastructure would be able to find support.

Second, a regional health department would have more success when applying for grants under all four categories. A larger health department presents a more competitive application than two smaller ones. The Allentown and Bethlehem Health Bureaus have a very poor chance of winning grants if larger municipalities such as Philadelphia choose to apply to the same programs. The proposed regional health department, however, covering over 600,000 people, would have much improved chances, and would be more likely to net the federal money.

This competitive advantage would combine with an increase in state funding. We know that a regional health department would receive $3 million from the state that the two current independent health bureaus are missing out on. State public health funding is allocated on a per capita basis under Act 315 and Act 12. Therefore, a larger population serviced by a regional department would be eligible for greater funding. 

Keep in mind that the Affordable Health Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund represents a $15 billion investment over 10 years. So, a regional health department would be competitively applying for these specific funds for at least the next 8 years, in addition to countless other federal grants.

For more information, take a look at the following resources:

Posted on February 22, 2011, in Federal Policy, Health, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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