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Jefferson, Deschutes and Crook counties work together to prevent disease outbreaks.

The Oregon Legislature's $5 million public health modernization investment is allowing counties to partner with each other and share staff resources so they can better prepare for and respond to communicable disease threats, a new state report found.

As an example, Jefferson, Deschutes and Crook counties are working together to prevent disease outbreaks among people living in long-term care facilities. They also are actively monitoring communicable diseases at the regional level to identify and respond to emerging diseases sooner and provide outbreak response assistance across counties when needed.

The 2017 investment, $3.9 million of which went toward funding communicable disease control efforts at eight regions of local public health departments, also is improving health equity work, such as identifying populations disproportionately affected by infectious diseases, according to the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Modernization Interim Evaluation Report.

The OHA Public Health Division used the remaining $1.1 million in legislative funds to improve collection and reporting of population health data, including enhancing a database that tracks immunizations.

It also went to local public health departments to provide technical assistance, such as training on best practices for improving childhood immunization rates and communicable disease reporting.

"In the first six months of the Oregon Legislature's modernization investment, we have seen important changes in how we deal with communicable diseases on a regional level," said Oregon Public Health Division Director Lillian Shirley. "We know that these diseases don't stop at the county line during an outbreak, and neither should we when we're working to prevent and fight them."

For example, local public health departments, such as those in Central Oregon, have developed formal policies such as memoranda of understanding and cross-jurisdictional agreements, to create or expand intergovernmental partnerships so they can coordinate and share staff, data, and public information documents during an outbreak.

Additionally, they have been able to hire additional regional epidemiologists, infection prevention specialists and communicable disease investigators, who can be quickly deployed to respond to public health emergencies.

"This allows counties to support neighboring jurisdictions with fewer resources to conduct routine investigations," Shirley said.

Other examples of collaborations among counties include:

Lane, Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties are collaborating to increase immunization rates across multiple population groups. And Lane County Public Health is working with a hospital system to prevent hospital readmission by implementing a pneumococcal vaccination policy for eligible patients upon hospital discharge.

Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties are funding a full-time Oregon Health Equity Alliance position to ensure equity expertise and meaningful community engagement; and Clackamas County created Health Equity Zones to geographically tailor local health equity interventions.

Health equity work has improved on a regional level, too, the report notes. Local public health departments are working with tribes, regional health equity coalitions and other partners on assessments that ensure health equity and community engagement are incorporated into communicable disease prevention strategies. One health department used funds for translation services to ensure better access to communicable disease risk communications.

"This evaluation report shows that we are making progress in our work to build a modern public health system, but there's a lot more to be done," Shirley said.

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