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Press Releases - 10/11/06

Contact Jennifer Hudman
(301) 652-1558

LOCAL PUBLIC HEALTH READINESS GROWS STRONGER, NEW STUDY SHOWS; Report Also Shows Large Variations in Size and Funding Across Nation

Washington (October 11, 2006)

More than nine in ten of the nation's 2,800 local health departments have strengthened their disaster planning and other key functions since 2001, says a new study by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

Communication and information systems, training, and health surveillance also have been fortified in 90 percent of the agencies, and all but a few departments recently held preparedness exercises, says the study report.  Three-quarters of the departments inspect or license food service establishments and provide food safety education.

The NACCHO study is the most comprehensive census ever taken of local health departments, the nation's front-line defense against bioterrorism, epidemics, and other public health challenges.

Local health departments serve as few as 1,000 and as many as 10 million people.  They engage in a broad spectrum of activities and vary widely in both organization and funding sources.  The largest departments, those serving over half a million people, comprise just 6% of the total but serve more than half of the U.S. population.

"Only through a comprehensive census such as this can we learn the scope, depth, trends, resources and needs of local governmental public health efforts, which make or break early responses to potential public health crises, from food-borne disease outbreaks to pandemic influenza," says Patrick Libbey, NACCHO executive director. 

"Because successful local public health responses involve many players, it's encouraging to learn that more than 90 percent of departments partner with schools, emergency responders, media, physicians, and community organizations," Libbey adds.

About nine-tenths of the local agencies provide adult and child immunizations and conduct surveillance for infectious diseases, according to the findings.  Most departments also provide health screenings to detect diseases and serious health conditions early, environmental health oversight, treatment for tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, tobacco use prevention, and maternal and child health protection. 

Funding for local public health appears tight.  In thirteen states, the median local health department budget is less than $20 per resident each year for the entire range of local health department services.  In only four states is that sum more than $40 per resident.  By contrast, United States spending on health care exceeds $4500 per person each year.

Nationwide, local governments provided the single largest source of funding for local health departments, 29%, while states provided 23%, although these proportions varied substantially among states.  Other sources included federal grant programs (20%) and Medicaid (9%).

The report contains self-reported descriptive statistics for 2,864 local health departments in every state except Rhode Island.  The overall response rate was 80 percent.  Findings came from a core questionnaire and three module questionnaires covering performance improvement, workforce, and selected program areas (health inequities, policymaking and advocacy, and information management).  Each module was sent to more than 500 local health departments serving populations of various sizes. 

The report was completed in late July and is available on the NACCHO Website, www.naccho.org.


NACCHO is the national organization representing the nation's nearly 3,000 local health departments.  These agencies work every day on the front lines to protect and promote the health of their communities.  NACCHO develops resources and programs and promotes national policies that support effective local public health practice.


Jennifer Hudman
(301) 652-1558