The Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH), accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, is undertaking a comprehensive transformation effort driven by limited resources and a pressing need for change. Leading this charge is Jan Chamness, the Public Health Transformation Director.

Although the department’s commitment to public health transformation began in 2014, it was around 2017-2018 that they escalated their efforts. The urgency to act arose from the realization that several health departments were at imminent risk of closing, jeopardizing the entire public health system in Kentucky and putting the community at risk. By taking action through the lens of transformation, the department is helping to prevent closure while gradually improving their community health ranking among states.

“What we were doing wasn’t working…it wasn’t making our state healthier,” said Chamness.

The department took a systemic approach to address their current gaps, starting with the “low-hanging fruit” and addressing areas where improvements could be made quickly and efficiently. For instance, to enhance women’s health, Chamness suggests that local health departments reach out to other providers in their communities to offer essential services such as family planning, cancer prevention programs, and prenatal care while local health departments focus their resources on foundational services such as population health, disease investigation, and disaster response. These efforts not only improve women’s overall well-being but also promote healthier communities.

“We are prioritizing what Kentucky needs,” said Chamness.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges to the department’s efforts for public health transformation. The pandemic disrupted the department’s plans, requiring them to shift their focus to managing and responding to the health crisis. Shortly after the arrival of the new health commissioner, the department encountered its first COVID-19 case, propelling Chamness into the role of project lead for public health transformation.

Despite these challenges, Chamness and her colleagues, including Kyra Dailey, the Director of Public Health Content, and Carissa Adams, Accreditation Coordinator, are examining the operational aspects of public health transformation. They are thoroughly assessing budgeting, planning processes, and grant funding to envision a future where Kentucky is more efficient and effective.

“We really have a role in leading and guiding local health departments,” said Adams.

The department is currently looking at how they can support local health departments by evaluating their capacity, such as stakeholder engagement and technological capabilities. The department is fostering a culture of collaboration rather than competition, recognizing the integral role that local and state entities play in achieving public health goals.

“We are really building a culture of collaboration,” said Dailey.

KDPH is also part of the 21st Century Learning Community (21C), a group of states focused on intentional statewide public health system transformation through PHAB’s Center for Innovation. Chamness and her team find great value in sharing knowledge and data with other states.

“It’s all about community and how we can make the individuals in the community healthier,” said Dailey.

Despite limited resources and the lasting effects of the pandemic, the Kentucky Department for Public Health is actively pursuing public health transformation and are committed to improving public health in the state.

“Kentucky is working really hard to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve,” said Chamness.

“We really have a role in leading and guiding local health departments.”

– Carissa Adams, KDPH

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