By Theresa Devine, MPH, Health Information Specialist, Healthy People, ODPHP
Wondering how Healthy People 2020 can support your public health work?
Laura Edwards — North Carolina’s Healthy People State Coordinator and the Senior Vice President for Strategic Partnerships at Population Health Improvement Partners — has some ideas. Edwards has been on the front lines of health improvement in her home state of North Carolina for over 20 years and uses Healthy People to drive those efforts.
Healthy North Carolina 2020
Healthy People State Coordinators help make sure their state’s health plan is in line with Healthy People goals and objectives. And in North Carolina, Edwards is pretty much a perfect fit for the job — she’s been helping integrate the Healthy People framework into her state’s population health improvement efforts since 2008. But North Carolina’s efforts started long before Edwards’ tenure: every 10 years since 1990, the North Carolina Division of Public Health (NC DPH) sets up its own objectives modeled on those of the Healthy People initiative. “The North Carolina objectives are our state health improvement plan,” Edwards explains. “We call it Healthy North Carolina 2020.”
A streamlined approach
North Carolina’s public health efforts are impressively synchronized — its 85 local or district health departments in the state of North Carolina use the Healthy North Carolina 2020 objectives as their framework. This kind of collaboration is key to the success of Healthy North Carolina 2020.
“NC DPH programs predominantly reference the Healthy North Carolina 2020 objectives,” explains Edwards. “And all local health departments identify at least 2 priority objectives and interventions to make progress toward them.”
North Carolina state public health officials also make meaningful use of data collected on the objectives they’ve laid out for the state. Every year, the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics compiles and releases a data report on the objectives. “We’re actually using the data to look at priorities across the state — and to drive next steps,” says Edwards.
Edwards attributes this systematic approach largely to the commitment that NC DPH has made to the Healthy People framework. “We’ve had a lot of forward motion and forward-thinking leaders,” she says. She goes on to explain that it’s not just about developing the objectives — it’s also about providing the evidence-based interventions to address them.
“If we really believe in these objectives and we are going to improve population health in North Carolina, what resources are we able to provide to help?”
A common language for health
Edwards says that one of the most important things that Healthy People offers to public health professionals is a common language for population health improvement. “It gives folks a common direction — a common ground. We can all talk about the same things.” And of course there’s room for tailoring that language to specific communities.
Edwards explains: “When you identify priorities as a state, folks can choose what’s appropriate for their community within that priority area. We don’t tell everyone they have to use a particular intervention. But it gives everybody the same lens to look at population health through.”
Forging connections through Healthy People
Edwards’ passion for public health in her home state is unmistakable, and she extends that same commitment to her job as Healthy People Coordinator — a position she’s had now for 8 years. Over the years, she says, she’s formed long-term partnerships with people who she’s met through the Healthy People connection.
“It’s so fun. I’ve had all kinds of people reach out and ask how they can get involved in improving health,” she says. When people contact her, she tries to match folks’ area of interest or expertise with related work happening in the state — often at a local health department. “I’m like a public health matchmaker!”
A personal connection
Edwards also talks about a more personal connection with the philosophy behind the Healthy People initiative. “I was born and raised in North Carolina — there’s nothing I want more than to see our state get healthier. Healthy People is not only the framework for our state, but it’s been a framework for my career,” she says.
“I’ve been in public health a long time. And the development of Healthy North Carolina 2020 has been a really cool process to watch. Everybody has bought into this and said ‘these are the things that are important in our state and we’re all going to use this framework as we go forward.’ Healthy People is really the backbone of how we work.”