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Strategic goal  #4: Strengthening our public health system

In July 2022, GHF’s Board of Directors and staff launched our 2022-2026 strategic plan–an ambitious blueprint for our next four years as an organization. Guided by this living document, GHF will deepen our focus on health equity; champion community-led change; build a healthy, resilient organization; and lead advocacy to strengthen Georgia’s public health systems and workforce.

This is the final blog in a four-blog series from GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert spotlighting each of our new strategic goals. If you missed the previous blogs, you can read about our goals related to health equity, community-led change, and building a resilient organization on our blogs.

Strategic goal #4: Strengthen public health infrastructure in Georgia by advocating for increased state funding, workforce capacity, and effective action by public health agencies. 

(Don’t miss GHF’s Say “Yes” for Public Health petition to show your support for public health workers, programs, and agencies here in Georgia!)

GHF’s board of directors and staff went through the strategic planning process in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in fall 2021 as the delta wave of COVID-19 crested and wrapping up in spring 2022 as many people returned to pre-pandemic activities and travel. By then, it was crystal clear then that if resourced, staffed, and supported adequately, our local, state and federal public health systems could have been more effective at protecting Georgians from COVID-19 and the associated health outcomes (like worsened mental health and overdose deaths). 

Georgia’s state and local public health systems keep Georgians safe and healthy in innumerable ways every day–clean drinking water, safe restaurants, emergency response, and disease prevention. As an early champion of public health, Georgia was among the first states to reduce infant mortality in the 1930s. By the 1960s, Georgia employed at least one public health nurse in every county, opened home health agencies statewide, and prioritized the prevention and control of chronic disease in public health initiatives.

The most recent 30 years contrast starkly with those early successes, as Georgia consistently ranks among the bottom 10 states for overall health and well-being. Georgia’s public health agencies have faced stagnant or reduced state funding even as demand grows for local health services, environmental monitoring and response, and health promotion programs. Since the onset of COVID-19, Georgia’s public health workers have taken on new responsibilities, been attacked for doing their jobs, and seen public confidence in their authority wane.

To succeed in building a healthy future for all Georgians, our state and local public health systems need at least four foundational cornerstones: 1) a sufficient and trained workforce: 2) laws and policies that enable evidence-based and effective decision making; 3) sustainable long-term funding that adequately supports community programs and activities; and 4) the trust of community members, especially among those who shoulder the heaviest health disparities.

During our strategic planning process, GHF’s board and staff recognized that it will take a decade or more to successfully advocate for these foundational elements and see them realized in Georgia’s public health agencies. GHF’s commitment in this strategic goal represents the first several years in what we know will be a longer effort. We have committed to a multi-year initiative that:

  1. Grows community understanding and trust of public health–in order to earn the attention and priority of policymakers, public health must first earn support from the very people whose health they protect and promote. This objective is modeled on the successful defense of federal Medicaid funding that health advocates nationwide achieved in 2017 by lifting up the faces and voices of Medicaid members and helping people understand how Medicaid benefits all Americans. GHF and several partner groups have already begun compiling similar stories about how public health touches the lives of every Georgian every day. We will develop these stories and other key information about local and state public health systems into materials and tools, and share them broadly with Georgians across the state. 
  2. Is collaboratively led by public health workers and leaders–GHF’s first steps here will include facilitating several focus groups of state and local public health workers to better understand the strengths, challenges, opportunities, and needs within Georgia’s public health systems. From the focus group participants, GHF will recruit an advisory group that convenes regularly to guide the development of a multi-year outreach and advocacy plan, and advise the creation of outreach materials, messaging about public health, and other assets needed to carry out the advocacy plan. This co-leadership model will ensure that GHF and other advocates are accurately and most effectively conveying the challenges and opportunities of our public health workers and systems to the public and to decision makers. 
    Are you a public health worker who is interested in participating in the focus groups or advisory group? Please contact Knetta Adkins, Organizing Manager, at kadkins@healthyfuturega.org or 404-400-2715.
  3. Is supported by new funding–in order to dedicate the staff time and expertise, materials, and other resources needed to successfully carry out these long-term plans, GHF will need to secure multi-year funding through grants, individual and organizational donations, and other fundraising strategies. We have already succeeded with two modest grants from local philanthropic foundations. These early investments are critical so that GHF can begin this work while continuing to build the case with other potential funders. 
  4. Addresses the building blocks of health through partnerships–to reach their highest level of health, Georgians need all of the right building blocks in place: good paying jobs, quality housing and healthy transportation, good educations, a clean, safe environment, and more. Public health touches some of these building blocks (which are often called the “social determinants of health”). These building blocks meaningfully drive or alleviate racial and other disparities and often influence community, family, and individual health to a greater degree than health coverage or health care. In order to achieve GHF’s mission and vision, it is imperative that we advocate to improve the building blocks that most closely connect to health and health equity. GHF will look to pre-existing frameworks like the CDC’s HI-5 interventions and to partner organizations with expertise in these areas for guidance and collaboration. On issues like the Georgia Work Credit and healthy housing, where GHF is not the leading expert or convener group, GHF will help to connect the dots between those issues and the health of Georgians. In this way and others, GHF will help build a diverse base of support so that these kinds of policies are adopted and benefit Georgians.

To ensure our efforts are as effective as possible, we will track how many Georgians we reach with our public health outreach efforts and evaluate the quality of our partnerships with public health workers and agencies. If GHF meets the mark on those and other process measures, we would expect to see meaningful increases in public health funding, growth in the public health workforce, and other markers of development in our public health systems. We will additionally measure the number and quality of partnerships between GHF and partner groups whose work is primarily focused on one or more building blocks of health.

With these initial steps, GHF and many partners will lay the groundwork for the public health system and related policies that Georgians need and deserve—those that are grounded in the realities of our communities, built on trust and partnership, and known to deliver results. 

Thank you!

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