A new state agency, the Department of Public Health (DPH), opened its doors on July 1, 2007. Last year, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the legislation, Senate Bill 162 (SB162), creating California’s DPH, a move which according to the Governor’s Office will “bring greater focus” to public health issues.
Public health is the science of health promotion, disease prevention, and the prolonging of healthy lives through the organized efforts and choices of individuals and organizations. Public health “issues” include such natural and man-made emergencies as earthquakes, floods, wildfires, severe weather such as extreme heat, and biological terrorist attacks. Public health concerns also include health promotion and disease prevention issues such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), obesity, and smoking cessation.
The DPH founding legislation, which Senator Deborah Ortiz authored, shows when public health-specific programs were housed in the California Department of Health Services (as of July 1 the California Department of Health Care Services) California health insurance programs, such as Medi-Cal, “overshadowed” those crucial programs. Ortiz’s bill cites a Little Hoover Commission report illustrating that in 2003-2004 the California Department of Health Services dedicated “over 48% of its staff and 96% of its total resources to health service delivery for Medi-Cal and [similar] programs.” The new DPH will dedicate one hundred percent of its resources to public health, more effectively protecting the health and safety of Californians.
Heading the new state department is Dr. Mark Horton, a pediatrician and top health official in Orange County, who was the state's public health officer until Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him DPH Director on April 2, 2007.
Department of Public Health a good information resource for Californians
One DPH online resource, Be Prepared California, offers Californians a one-stop shop for understandable information about what to do, and whom to contact, in an emergency. The website’s organization, and text, exemplifies the straightforward, user-based, direction in which state online services are moving.
Though the website focuses on information about potentially frightening topics such as “bioterrorism threats,” the DPH website team does a great job translating complex terms for diverse Californians. The website’s simple language is an enormous benefit to Californians of disparate reading abilities who need this information for their safety. Online visitors encounter simple categories such as “Protect Yourself & Your Family” with easy-to-follow links to detailed pages such as “Talk to Children About Crisis Events.”
Because this new agency is now specifically in charge of reaching out to citizens statewide on public health issues, regional and local emergency organizations (“first responders”) have more flexibility to do the grass-roots level work of acting on public health threats, and controlling the spread of diseases such as meningitis, HIV, and hepatitis C, among others. As Director Horton said in the Governor’s April 7 radio address, “We will…help [county health departments and local organizations] to be more efficient and effective in delivering services and promoting public health in their communities.”
Horton said the new DPH will “fulfill the Governor’s promise to improve access to quality health care and reduce costs through prevention – with services such as disease screenings and vaccinations, and patient safety initiatives. These include programs to reduce obesity, diabetes and tobacco use because they are leading causes of heart disease, stroke and cancer.” Because the “patient safety initiatives” to which Horton refers are garnering public interest in California, people who work in California’s libraries should find the DPH website and link referrals excellent resources for community education workshops on preventative health, and disaster preparedness, or for customers seeking information on those topics in their homes, schools, and workplaces.
New focus on preventative care in California communities
According to data from the federal initiative, Healthy People 2010, health education and healthy lifestyle promotion will help increase Americans’ quality of life. Like Governor Schwarzenegger and Dr. Horton at the DPH, California State Library leaders recognize the many benefits of good health information and through the 2007 California State Library Consumer Health Survey are exploring how California libraries might be ideal healthy lifestyle resources in California’s communities.
Of the 2007 California State Library Consumer Health Survey, State Librarian Susan Hildreth says, “We believe that public libraries have an important role to play in reaching the Healthy People 2010 goals because libraries can disseminate health information and promote healthy lifestyles. We’re asking California’s library community and primary health care providers what function public libraries could play in addressing consumer health information needs.”
For more information about new California Department of Public Health please visit http://bepreparedcalifornia.ca.gov/epo/.
For more information about the 2007 California State Library Consumer Health survey please contact Suzanne Flint at (916) 651-9796 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.