State and local health departments are charged with promoting and protecting the health and safety of the public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created Prevention Research Centers (PRCs), established by Congress in 1984, to serve as a mechanism to support research that could help state and local health agencies address challenging public health issues.
In the view of state and local public health departments, PRCs are valuable partners who improve practice-based public health.
Public health is often faced with complex issues needing a systems approach to effectively and efficiently make improvements. PRCs are a value-added resource for state and local public health leaders as these centers address relevant, timely, and complex public health issues. Both state and local health departments engage with PRCs in a number of ways, leveraging the needs and strengths of each department level to address complex public health issues.
A core tenet of state and local public health departments is addressing the nation’s entrenched health inequities and reducing the prevalence of preventable chronic disease. PRC programs have created a vital link among academia’s resources, public health practitioners, and community partners. Our members and the communities they serve have benefited from 30 years of PRC leadership in designing, testing, and disseminating innovative and practice-based strategies.
The Value of Prevention Research Center–Led Partnerships
One of CDC’s ten essential services of public health is to “assure competent public and personal health care workforce,” and another is to “research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems.”
Combined, these two essential services are the core of how PRCs improve the capabilities of state health departments. PRCs serve as a training resource center for local and state public health department staff. Having trained numerous professionals, community members, and students, PRCs are helping ensure that the needs of the public health workforce are being met. They also provide technical assistance to health departments as needed, using research methodology to bring evidence-based expertise to public health practice.
The partnership between Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota PRC work in adolescent health is an example of a value-added collaborative relationship. The PRC provides training to employees of the Minnesota Department of Health, serves as a technical reviewer for the Family Planning program, produces an adolescent health report each year, and serves as a central point to bring together a strong network of experts and practitioners working on adolescent health in the state. Ed Ehlinger, MD, MSPH, Minnesota Commissioner of Health, notes that it is extremely helpful to partner with a nationally recognized organization who has expertise in the area of adolescent health and youth development (E Ehlinger, Minnesota Department of Health, personal communication, 2016).
The PRC programs are particularly valuable to local health departments because they generate both practice-based evidence and evidence-based practices. A prime example of this is a youth physical fitness program currently being led by West Virginia University PRC.
The Mid-Ohio valley program has brought together state and local health and education departments, a statewide cardiovascular risk screening program, and the West Virginia University PRC’s Community Partnership Board. The goal is to increase physical activity, improve aerobic fitness, combat health risks, and improve academic performance among students using a coordinated school approach that incorporates school- and family-based strategies. The program’s outcomes are relevant to policy and practice at the local, regional, and state levels.
Data and evidence of effectiveness are always critical to the practice of public health. The National Association of County and City Health Officials’ Model Practices Award program annually recognizes programs implemented by local health departments that are innovative, effective, and replicable. The model practices allow local health departments to benefit from their colleagues’ experiences, saving time and resources. Local health departments can similarly use PRC projects and policy recommendations in conjunction with the Model Practices program to enhance the success of their own public health initiatives. Local health departments can increase their capacity to collect, use, and interpret data and evidence to improve the health of their communities by partnering with PRCs.
Prevention Research Centers And Public Health 3.0
The PRCs are key components of the new Public Health 3.0 strategy, the next iteration of public health practice that leverages policy, systems, and environmental change in the pursuit of health equity.
Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. DHHS, encouraged local health officials “to serve as chief health strategists in their communities,” urging them to engage nontraditional partners and stakeholders across multiple sectors.
DeSalvo K. NACCHO Annual 2016; July 19–21, 2016; Phoenix, AZ.
By collaborating with PRCs, state and local health departments can benefit from the resources, evidence, and partnerships developed through such programs, helping them both fulfill their charge as chief health strategists and surmount funding gaps that have persisted for the last decade.
It will be important for state and local health departments to work together and with PRCs to generate and translate research into practice. The opioid epidemic, health disparities, and persistent chronic disease are just a few of the inordinately complex issues that span sectors and can benefit from a combination of scholarly research and practitioner experience. Many federal initiatives seek to take evidence-based practices and turn them into projects at the state and local levels that dramatically improve health outcomes; examples include the Million Hearts initiative and the 6|18 Initiative. PRCs contribute research related to both initiatives at the local level. In addition, PRCs are a critical resource as state and local health agencies prepare for accreditation or reaccreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board.
By providing academic research and learning opportunities, PRC programs are important partners and allies for State and local health departments. We congratulate the Prevention Research Centers on their 30th anniversary and look forward to our continued relationship with them.
This publication is a product of the Prevention Research Centers Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The findings and conclusions in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No financial disclosures were reported by the authors of this paper.
This article is part of a supplement issue titled Prevention Research Centers Program – 30th Anniversary: Translating Applied Public Health Research into Policy and Practice.
© 2016 American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Published by Elsevier Inc.