Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Strange Public Health Agency Rivalry Thing

Why is it that so many local health department directors can’t seem to give a speech without throwing in a few insults directed at their counterparts at the state health department? 

Could they be jealous?  After all, their agencies are smaller than the state agency. 

No, jealousy doesn’t seem likely; they may be smaller, but it is common knowledge that local health departments are more powerful. During my first year in state employment, I once unintentionally offended a receptionist at a local health department. The subsequent backlash demonstrated how the power wielded by a receptionist at a local health department dwarfs that of a mere state employee, regardless of rank. 

I think it is more plausible that they feel unappreciated for all the important work they do.  After all, as several of them pointed out after taking a few jabs at the state health department during the public health conference I attended today, local health departments work on the front lines of public health. They are the closest public health workers to their constituents, provide most face-to-face services and know their local communities best.

As one teeny, tiny, little piece of the agency they so obviously resent, I would like to do my part to heal this rift by expressing my heartfelt appreciation to local health departments across the state.  I agree with your directors that you do very important work. 

I wouldn’t even mind working for a local health department someday myself, as long as I would not be required to make speeches belittling my colleagues employed by the state.

That being said, would it be okay for me to point out that there are also some important public health efforts that are most effectively completed at the state level, and we are fortunate to have equally competent people employed at the state health department to complete those tasks?  At risk of sounding like a socialist, aren’t there even other public health roles best taken on by the federal government? 

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