A Lost Opportunity

by Rick Austin May 13, 2014 04:02 PM

So, I listened to the new podcast from NACCHO, and after just under six minutes, it ended. Wait, what?


NACCHO’s Ian Goldstein interviewed Dr. John Tassey about some of the lessons learned from the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. It was fascinating. It was too short.


Tassey is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Oklahoma, and a first responder to the 1995 bombing. He remains involved to this day in the development and expansion of the city’s emergency response system, particularly the mental health aspect.


He’s potentially a fount of information, both historical and operational, about disaster response and the need for public- and mental-health capabilities. For instance, he mentioned that, 19 years after the bombing, there are still community mental health needs emerging from the aftermath. This is interesting from a number of standpoints. What are the mental health issues being uncovered? Are the expanded capabilities of the Oklahoma City mental health facilities able to handle them? What could be done better?


No answers to any of those questions, as the podcast moved on to the next topic with no further consideration. Similarly, a throwaway comment about the emergence of a medical reserve corps following the bombing went unexplored. How did the reserve corps emerge? How has it integrated with Oklahoma City’s disaster response capabilities? How has it helped? No answers here.


The skills and experiences of local public health and mental health professionals like John Tassey are an invaluable resource for all of us. I would have liked to hear a little more.

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NACCHO Story Bank Misses the Target

by Rick Austin February 28, 2014 04:11 PM

I just spent some time browsing NACCHO’s “Stories From the Field,” and I’m simultaneously fascinated and confused. This standalone website is operated as a resource for NACCHO members, and it has some impressive fundamentals, as well as links to outside resources.


As I browsed the stories that have been submitted from NACCHO members, it became clear that this concept of storytelling as a public health information tool is a tough one to grasp.


The site introduces the concept of storytelling as an effective tool in “The Value of Stories,” and then walks the reader through the basics in “Storytelling 101.” NACCHO members who would like to try their hand at this unfamiliar discipline are even given a step-by-step template in “Tell Your Story.”


The sample stories that have been posted are wildly uneven, as you might expect from people who have a master’s degree in public health, not a master’s degree in creative writing. But many of the stories also betray a misunderstanding of who the story is for.  


As the site points out in “The Value of Stories,” we’re attempting to reach people on the street, communities, government officials, legislators. Our effectiveness as storytellers depends on personal impact, a recognizable face, a compelling tale of success, or adversity overcome. That’s a tough one to grasp if it’s not your background, and what we get on the “Stories From the Field” website is a lot of “insider baseball” about PIOs staffing the EOC, needs assessment, policy infrastructure, target populations, and plenty of acronyms (MCH, MRC, FEMA, CDC).


There is a review process before stories are posted, but I’m guessing that this entails evaluating the entry for appropriateness, not efficacy. Maybe it’s beyond the scope of this NACCHO tool, but it would be nice to see some of these stories wrestled into a form with more focus and impact.


Take a look at “Stories From the Field,” and tell me what you think in the comments.

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Teamwork and Partnership in Chicago

by Rick Austin September 4, 2013 04:17 PM

Here’s an interesting listen… The folks at NACCHO recently published a podcast interview with Bechara Choucair, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.


Choucair, taking his cue from the national prevention strategy called for in the Affordable Care Act, has released what seems to be an extremely ambitious plan for his city, Healthy Chicago.


Given the usual constraints on public health policy at the city level, the plan seemed overly ambitious to me, until Choucair started talking about the variety and scope of the partnerships the city is developing. By getting specific commitments from other government agencies, faith-based groups, and community organizations, Choucair’s public health department is increasing their logistical reach, as well as increasing the level of commitment and ownership for various pieces of the initiative.


Give it a listen – it’s only 10 minutes long – then check out the Healthy Chicago website. Do you think they’re attempting too much, or will the partnership strategy pay off?

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