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CPHHS offers first Oregon Public Health Policy Institute

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As public health professionals increase their focus on preventing the leading causes of death, disease and injury, developing and implementing public health policies – laws, regulations or rules – likewise must move to the forefront to improve population health.

The College of Public Health and Human Sciences is addressing this need by offering the Oregon Public Health Policy Institute – funded by the Public Health Division of the Oregon Health Authority – to enhance public health policy competencies among state and local health department staff.

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“By making healthy choices the easy choices, public health policies are a very effective way to influence the behavior and environment of large populations,” says CPHHS Associate Professor and Oregon Public Health Policy Institute organizer Jeff Luck.

Twenty participants from four state public health programs and five local health departments gathered at Oregon State August 21–23 to share their experiences and learn practical policy skills. Among the topics addressed were public health involvement in land use planning decisions, reducing consumption of sugary drinks and limiting the spread of chronic viral hepatitis.

The curriculum was designed by CPHHS faculty to engage working public health professionals as adult learners. Short instructional sessions covered skills such as using data to quantify the impact of policies, synthesizing evidence about effective policies, drafting policy statements and communicating with stakeholders. Most of the institute’s three days were spent in hands-on team exercises where participants applied these skills to their policy topics.

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Oregon Public Health Division’s Policy Officer, Michael Tynan, kicked off the institute by describing how tobacco control policies have steadily been implemented in more and more states and municipalities, with clear impacts on smoking rates and health.

“The population-wide approach that many states and communities have taken to reduce tobacco use and protect people from secondhand smoke can be applied to many other public health issues,” says Michael, who previously worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health. “There is an important role that state and local public health staff play in not only building community awareness of public health issues but also in building understanding of which policies are most effective in improving population health.”

CPHHS faculty led participants – local and state public health staff – through a series of 10 steps in the development, implementation and evaluation of public health policy in order to provide guidance as they engage in policy work. Understanding these steps also helps build policy development capacity that supports ongoing accreditation efforts by Oregon health departments.

Panel discussions brought additional insights from senior Oregon health experts. State Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson and former Senator Frank Morse explained how health department staff can work appropriately and effectively with elected officials.

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Also during the institute, Northwest Health Foundation retired President Thomas Aschenbrener challenged participants to think broadly about public health policy, and Kim Whitley of Samaritan Health Services described how health departments can work with Oregon’s Coordinated Care Organizations on public health policy issues.

“As Oregon and the nation transform the healthcare delivery system via Coordinated Care Organizations and the Affordable Care Act, state and local public health departments will have a central role in developing and implementing policies to prevent chronic disease and improve population health,” Jeff says.

With the CPHHS currently working to become the first accredited college of public health and human sciences in Oregon, institute organizers –Associate Professor Jeff Luck, Assistant Professor Jangho Yoon and Associate Professor Steph Bernell – say this workforce development activity comes at an important time for Oregon.

“We’re excited that Oregon State can help Oregon public health agencies build their capacity to develop policy solutions for the population health challenges of the 21st century,” Jeff says.