GPHA Advocates for an Independent Department of Public Health

Update on 8/26/08: Governor Sonny Perdue recommends creation of Department of Health, to include Public Health and other agencies. Click here to read the Governor’s press release. Click here to read a letter from the acting director of the Division of Public Health outlining the potential impacts to the Public Health system. Click here to read the interim report release by the Health and Human Services Task Force.

The Georgia Public Health Association believes the citizens of Georgia can be better served by an independent Department of Public Health, and is urging elected officials to create a stand-alone public health agency. Governor Sonny Perdue formed a Health and Human Resources Task Force in February to explore options for reorganizing the Department of Human Resources. “Several options are being considered,” says GPHA President Dr. Doug Skelton, “and we believe an independent Department of Public Health would be in the best interest of the health of Georgians.”

There are several advantages of an independent Department of Public Health, including:

• A single authority for public health policy with the ability to focus clearly on public health issues.
• With the CDC in Georgia, Public Health schools at Emory, the University of Georgia, and Georgia Southern University, and 6 other public health degree-granting programs in the state, this would be an opportunity to establish Georgia as a leader in public health and bring additional status to the state.
• Greater visibility and increased direct access to power brokers (legislators and the Governor), enabling public health to better advocate for appropriate funding and policy.
• Ability to prioritize available funds toward areas of greatest opportunity for impact.
• Leadership with a medical and public health background would bring greater credibility and confidence from public and partners.
• Opportunity to better collaborate with other agencies around public health issues.
• Opportunity to maximize the advantages unique to the public health system (county Boards of Health, county contributions) and resolve problems also unique to this system.
• Opportunity to develop a comprehensive public health agenda for the state.
• Greater public visibility and accountability.

GPHA members and anyone with interest in the creation of an independent Department of Public Health are urged to contact the 9 members of the Health and Human Resources Task Force and/or the Governor, Lt. Governor and Speaker. “This could be a real turning point for public health in Georgia,” says Skelton, “and these task force members and state leaders need to hear from us as they prepare to make critical recommendations.”

Click here to read a letter from the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, supporting the creation of an independent Department of Public Health.

Click here to read a letter from the GPHA Nursing Section to Gov. Sonny Perdue asking for his support for the creation of an independent Department of Public Health.

Click here for the names and contact information of the Task Force members.

Click here to read the executive order creating the Health and Human Resources Task Force.

Click here to read the final report of the House Study Committee on Public Health, which recommended reorganization of the Department of Human Resources.

As the Georgia state budget faces current and potential shortfalls, the Georgia Department of Human Resources is also considering whether consolidation of some of the 18 district public health offices could save money without losing public health service capacity. Click here to read a position statement developed by the 18 District Health Directors.

Got a question about this issue? Send your question to Dr. Skelton at We may also post your question and the answer here to help educate others on this important topic.

How will this move (independent department of public health) affect the recent restructuring at the Department of Public Health? Will this mean we will be re-aligned? Will the Senior level of management remain in place?

Creation of an independent Department of Public Health or any other state level legislated change in the location of the state public health agency is not likely to have any impact on the recent reorganization within the Division of Public Health. The latter falls within the authority of the new Director of Public Health, Dr. Sandra Ford, who is already re-evaluating some aspects of the reorganization.

I understand one of the proposals being considered would remove restaurant inspections from the Division of Public Health and into the Department of Agriculture. What is GPHA’s position on this?

We believe it is critical that restaurant inspections remain a public health responsibility as a way to prevent disease. Not only do our environmentalists conduct routine inspections, but they must also respond to any unusual illnesses that may be linked to a facility or an event. This response is done hand-in-hand with public health epidemiologists.

First, a food history of all persons impacted is conducted, usually by Epidemiology, but often by environmentalists. The information gathered directs Environmental Health’s field-related assessments. Unlike routine inspections, a suspect or confirmed food borne illness inspection may take several hours or days. During these inspections, the environmentalist evaluates all of the establishment’s protocols, records and procedures. These include, but are not limited to, employee health practices, evaluating food sources, assessing hot holding, cooling and storage procedures. If available, food samples are collected as well as swab samples from equipment. Epidemiology may request environmentalists to collect stool samples.

Additionally, the food history of the ill person may indicate other possible sources such as a water well. If this is the case, the environmentalist will conduct an assessment of the home (i.e. septic and well systems) and collect water samples for analysis. At the time of inspection of the food facility, home or other location, environmentalists are required to immediately initiate corrected action (i.e., “withhold from sale” food products, request that a food handling procedure practice be corrected, etc.)

Public health, by law, has an established notification and surveillance program in place (290-5-3) that alerts of unusual illnesses often requiring environmental inspection. A review of the Department of Agriculture’s rules/ mission (Chapter 40), does not document that a similar surveillance and monitoring system is in place.

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