Happy National Public Health Week! This annual week-long celebration, spearheaded by the American Public Health Association (APHA), celebrates the nation’s public health successes while calling attention to our most pressing health-related challenges.
In the words of APHA’s Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin: “We all have a responsibility to the health of our community and our country. We know our needs are as varied as our communities themselves.”
That is why the role of regional councils in public health is so critical. Their relationships with all the major stakeholders in their communities – local government officials, business executives, and nonprofit and community leaders – gives them a broad view of what the most pressing health concerns are today.
With their wide lense across communities, regional councils recognize that health intersects many areas of public life, including transportation, the economy, housing, energy, the rise of extreme weather events, and the environment. With their long-term planning strengths, these organizations can also identify and analyze what potential impacts that current public health issues could look like ten, twenty, and even thirty years from now.
As highlighted in NARC’s health one-pager, the work of regional councils around public health has been primarily driven by two considerations: 1) planning for future development to improve public health, and 2) mitigating the negative consequences of the existing built environment.
Many regional efforts overlap with this year’s themes for National Public Health Week: healthy communities, violence prevention, rural health, technology and public health, and climate change. Several more ways regional councils are improving health outcomes include:
- Prioritizing transportation and pedestrian safety;
- Improving air and water quality;
- Increasing access to local, healthy food;
- Providing safe, stable homes for families through affordable housing; and
- Bringing community resources to those who need it most.
Here are just a few examples of the different ways regional councils are working to understand and address public health concerns in their communities:
- The Metropolitan Area Planning Council works to integrate public health perspectives in all of their projects, from planning to data collection to policy development. Their public health work focuses on healthy community design; health and equity assessments; food systems and healthy food access; and local public health collaboration and shared services.
- The Brazos Valley Council of Governments, supported in part by the Healthcare Connect Fund, has been deploying a private broadband network to connect rural hospitals, clinics, and schools that provide healthcare services. This will help drastically expand the healthcare options of the 62 percent of residents living in rural areas within the region.
- The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission works with several rural towns and communities in the region via local taskforces to improve local capacity in the response and prevention of domestic violence. They also assist communities in obtaining Community Development Block Grant funds to support social services for domestic violence prevention and community health.
- The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments recently published a report that aims to better understand health disparities in the region. They discovered that the health of a community is shaped less by healthcare and more by factors like income, education, housing, transportation, and the environment.
- The Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission has launched several transportation safety campaigns to keep motorists, bicyclists, and the public safer during their commutes. They have also developed air quality awareness campaigns to share ways residents can help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution, improving the health of the region.
- The South Florida Regional Planning Council – in conjunction with the Florida Institute for Health Innovation and the Florida Atlantic University’s Center for Environmental Studies – developed a report titled Health and Sea-Level Rise: Impacts on South Florida. The report mapped out zones most prone to sea level rise impacts, described associated public health risks, and identified the region’s most vulnerable communities to these sea level rise health effects.
- The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments has developed the Green Infrastructure Vision for Southeast Michigan, which seeks to protect undisturbed areas, promote built infrastructure that improves water and air quality, and encourage outdoor physical activity and recreation. The plan highlights how green infrastructure improves not just the health of a region’s environment, but also the health of its residents.