The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DWH) is the nucleus for state programs that deal with complex social, economic, and community issues. The Department’s purview is wide, ranging from preparing for the possibility of bioterrorism to facilitating vaccination programs for the state’s schoolchildren. The mission of the DWH is threefold:
- Protect the health and quality of the environment
- Promote healthy lifestyles
- Prevent disease, disability, and premature death
The DWH is organized into seven Public Health Districts, which allow public health services to be controlled and governed locally. Public Health Districts are responsible for providing the basic services of:
- Public health education
- Basic preventative health services
- Health administration
- Environmental health
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The public health professionals of Idaho are dedicated to protecting the health and safety of the citizens of Idaho. Although the Public Health Districts of Idaho serve as separate agencies, they all have the same focus or goal, which is to:
- Monitor the health of its citizens
- Protect citizens from health problems and health hazards
- Provide citizens with the information they need to make healthy choices
- Work with the community to identify and solve health problems
- Develop public health policies and plans
- Enforce public health laws and regulations
- Help citizens receive health services
- Maintain a competent public health workforce
For example, the public health professionals of the Idaho Public Health Preparedness Program are responsible for increasing the state’s ability to respond to infectious disease outbreaks, acts of bioterrorism, and other public health threats and emergencies. Like so many of Idaho’s public health programs, the Public Health Preparedness Program is funded by a number of state and federal agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Idaho’s commitment to its public safety initiatives is evident in its overall state public health budget, which has steadily increased over the past 5 years. As of fiscal year (FY) 2013-14, the state public health budget stood at $144 million, with another $35 million coming from the CDC.
Some of the most significant areas of public health budget allocation during this time were:
- Chronic disease prevention and health promotion: $6.8 million
- Public health preparedness and response: $5 million
- HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, STI, and TB prevention: $1.5 million
- Primary healthcare: $31 million
- Maternal and child health: $8.4 million
Idaho’s Public Health Professionals at Work
The sheer complexity and scope of Idaho’s public health initiatives and programs open up the door to a wide array of careers, from public health researchers and academic policy advisors to health program coordinators and public health nurses.
A glimpse into a few of the current public health programs in Idaho reveals the important work these public health professionals perform, and the interdisciplinary response necessary to make these programs work. For example, Project Filter, Idaho’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program, offers eight weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy. In January 2014 alone, more than 1,300 Idaho citizens registered for this service.
The Maternal and Child Health Program leads Idaho’s Infant Mortality Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network, a state plan designed to reduce infant morbidity and mortality. This project represents a partnership between the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the Medicaid’s Children’s Healthcare Improvement Collaboration, and Public Health Districts 6 and 7.
Some of the other popular public health consoriums in Idaho include:
- Coalition for a Healthy Idaho: Works to reduce tobacco’s impact on health
- Idaho RADAR Network Center: Provides free alcohol, tobacco, and drug information to Idaho residents
- Action for Healthy Kids – Idaho: Works to improve children’s nutrition and increase physical activity
- Idaho Environmental Health Association: Works to control environmental health hazards and promote healthful environmental conditions
Just a few of the professionals that make a critical contribution to Idaho’s public health system include:
Public Health Nurse Coordinator: Plans, implements, and evaluates nursing care for a unit; ensures that the staff assesses client health problems and needs and implements nursing care plans accordingly
Emergency Management Specialist: Oversees the planning, developing, and implementation of emergency preparedness initiatives, which includes providing disaster preparedness training and preparing emergency plans and procedures
Health Educator: Promotes, maintains, and improves community health through the planning, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based education programs that are designed to encourage healthy lifestyles, policies, and environments
Degree Programs for Idaho’s Public Health Professionals
Public health professionals virtually always hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree related to their field of expertise, whether in government, non-governmental organizations, or the private sector. However, the trend is toward graduate-level education, particularly for careers in health policy administration and management.
The goal of the Master of Public Health (MPH) is to prepare graduates for planning, implementing, and evaluating health promotion and disease-prevention programs. Therefore, a comprehensive MPH program includes study in not only community health, but in organizational, economic, legislative, and environmental areas, as well.
The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) requires all MPH programs to include courses in the five core public health disciplines:
- Healthcare ethics
- Health organization and policy
- Health program planning and evaluation
- Health care marketing
- Research methodology
MPH programs recognize bachelor’s degrees in virtually any major as meeting undergraduate requirements necessary for enrollment. This makes MPH programs ideal for those who may be changing careers to enter Idaho’s public health sector.
Just a few of the public health professionals in Idaho that benefit from an MPH degree include:
- Health educator
- Public health officer
- Clinical research coordinator
- Healthcare consultant
Idaho’s Public Health Resources
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DWH) is organized into seven health districts, all of which serve as primary outlets for public health services within their respective jurisdictions:
- Central District Health Department, Boise
- Eastern Idaho Public Health District, Idaho Falls
- North Central Health District, Lewiston
- Panhandle Health District, Hayden
- South Central Public Health, Twin Falls
- Southeastern Idaho Public Health, Pocatello
- Southwest District Health, Caldwell
These district-level agencies work closely with the DWH, as well as other state and local agencies. Each district has a board of health that is appointed by county commissioners within that region. The public health professionals in each district vary depending on the specific needs of that district.
Outside of the state’s public health districts, public health programs are carried out every day by private and non-profit organizations and institutions, such as:
- Community Council of Idaho, Caldwell
- Idaho Oral Health Alliance, Boise
- Family Health Services, Twin Falls
- Idaho Primary Care Association, Boise