Lewis County Public Health strategic plan focused on communication, collaboration

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LOWVILLE — The Lewis County Public Health Agency will seek to improve communication, collaboration and data-driven programming, according to its five-year strategic plan.

“We are moving forward into a whole new area of public health, not just in our county but across the country,” Penny A. Ingham, the agency’s director, told legislators last week during a presentation on the plan.

While Public Health may have traditionally been equated with nurses going into people’s homes, the 2012 move of certified home health aide and Hospice programs under the auspices of Lewis County General Hospital changed that, Mrs. Ingham said.

The strategic plan, overseen by Supervising Public Health Nurse Ashley Waite as part of her master’s degree work, should help define the agency and align it with national trends, she said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Public Health 3.0 initiative suggests local agencies shift away from a clinical focus and become “chief health strategists,” Mrs. Waite said.

The plan was developed by surveying staff, legislators and other officials, then establishing a team to review findings, find “common themes” and identify priority areas, she said.

Public Health officials should work on infrastructure issues like becoming accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, reviewing marketing and branding efforts to “make sure all our messaging is consistent” and finding ways to improve office space, location and visibility, Mrs. Waite said.

Workforce development and leadership — including training staff in the collective impact model of social change, seeking ways to improve employee satisfaction, cross training where possible and re-evaluating positions as retirements occur — are also important, she said.

The agency should also seek strategic partnerships with other agencies to share resources and make sure the department has “a seat at community planning tables,” Mrs. Waite said.

The plan also recommends the agency use as many evidence-based programs as possible and develop targeted initiatives based on local health data.

Staff should also continually review a Community Health Improvement Plan developed in December, attempt to integrate appropriate public health services into schools, workplaces and other community settings and utilize technology to better connect people to public health services and ensure understanding, it adds.

Legislators adopted the strategic plan, which runs from 2017 through 2022, and also authorized Public Health to contract with WayNorth LLC, Watertown, to develop a healthy food and fitness cellphone app at a cost of $3,000 for the first year and $1,000 in subsequent years.

Mrs. Waite also notified legislators of an emergency preparedness drill planned for April 26 at Lowville Academy and Central School at which office staff will conduct a faux mass vaccination of county residents. The intent is to see how many residents, if some outbreak were to occur, could be vaccinated in a two-hour period, and county officials and media will be invited to attend, she said.

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