Educating the General Population and More Specifically Health Workers About the Public Health Field

State: FL Type: Model Practice Year: 2008

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At first, Miami-Dade County Health Department (MDCHD) had two objectives when beginning this project. The first objective was to memorialize the history of the department. MDCHD saw that many long-time employees were retiring; these seasoned workers had many adventures to share. Some stories made us laugh. Some made us cry. And all taught us something about why we do what we do. Second, these stories were meant to inspire the public health workforce.

With economic rewards not being prevalent in public health, MDCHD believed it was imperative to show the workforce that it makes a difference. Enthusiastic reaction at the national level has presented an unforeseen, but now larger goal: To educate the general public by making the practice of public health a set of principles that everyone can comprehend.

As Andy Goodman, author of “Storytelling as Best Practice” states, “Stories strengthen your organization, engage your audience, and advance your mission.” Freibergs.com states, “Records show that stories can increase recall by up to 300%!...Stories create a common experience. This is why stories can strengthen the unity of a culture.” Therefore, Healthy Stories, by promoting quality healthcare practices within our organization, translates into a more committed and motivated workforce better able to focus on our customers. The unity of health department culture is in now being strengthen by Healthy stories. The Association of Schools of Public Health estimates that, “250,000 more public health workers will be needed by the year 2020.

The public health workforce has been diminishing over time. There were 50,000 fewer public health workers in 2000 than in 1980, forcing public health workers to do more for more people with fewer resources. The challenge is compounded by the fact that 23% of the current workforce – almost 110,000 workers, are eligible to retire in 2012. Without enough public health workers protecting us…we are all vulnerable to serious health risks.” Healthy Stories can contribute to future students making the decision of going into the public health field. One out of the ten essential public health services adopted by the American Public Health Association in 1994 reads, “Inform, educate and empower people about health issues”. Healthy Stories informs, educates, and empowers people since its creation and has been doing such in an entertaining manner.

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Miami-Dade County Health Department
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Educating the General Population and More Specifically Health Workers About the Public Health Field
At first, Miami-Dade County Health Department (MDCHD) had two objectives when beginning this project. The first objective was to memorialize the history of the department. MDCHD saw that many long-time employees were retiring; these seasoned workers had many adventures to share. Some stories made us laugh. Some made us cry. And all taught us something about why we do what we do. Second, these stories were meant to inspire the public health workforce. With economic rewards not being prevalent in public health, MDCHD believed it was imperative to show the workforce that it makes a difference. Enthusiastic reaction at the national level has presented an unforeseen, but now larger goal: To educate the general public by making the practice of public health a set of principles that everyone can comprehend. As Andy Goodman, author of “Storytelling as Best Practice” states, “Stories strengthen your organization, engage your audience, and advance your mission.” Freibergs.com states, “Records show that stories can increase recall by up to 300%!...Stories create a common experience. This is why stories can strengthen the unity of a culture.” Therefore, Healthy Stories, by promoting quality healthcare practices within our organization, translates into a more committed and motivated workforce better able to focus on our customers. The unity of health department culture is in now being strengthen by Healthy stories. The Association of Schools of Public Health estimates that, “250,000 more public health workers will be needed by the year 2020. The public health workforce has been diminishing over time. There were 50,000 fewer public health workers in 2000 than in 1980, forcing public health workers to do more for more people with fewer resources. The challenge is compounded by the fact that 23% of the current workforce – almost 110,000 workers, are eligible to retire in 2012. Without enough public health workers protecting us…we are all vulnerable to serious health risks.” Healthy Stories can contribute to future students making the decision of going into the public health field. One out of the ten essential public health services adopted by the American Public Health Association in 1994 reads, “Inform, educate and empower people about health issues”. Healthy Stories informs, educates, and empowers people since its creation and has been doing such in an entertaining manner.
The public health issue our practice addresses is the recruitment and retention of employees through the practice of inspiring loyalty, dedication, and commitment to the field. Healthy Stories fills in a gap for employees to explain to their families and friends what public health is about. Most professions have a book of stories that divulges the ups and downs of the career. In the field of public health, no such book exists. Therefore, MDCHD is filling this void. The process of determining relevancy to the community is witnessed by daily newspaper, Internet, radio, and television stories concerning people’s health. At many public health conferences, the issue of how to get the health department’s message out is not thoroughly addressed. An example of the failure to get the message out is the sheer number of people who have responded to the stories with phrases like, “I had no idea the health department was involved with all these activities.” Healthy Stories is an important tool in the toolbox of informing, educating, and empowering the public on health issues. An informed public is able to make conscious decisions on improving health and longevity. These stories can be the tipping point for people looking to make lifestyle changes such as not overeating, exercising, quitting tobacco, and limiting alcoholic beverages. MDCHD relies on its community partners to help improve public health. As such, Healthy Stories is collaborating with the University of Miami for additional authors. Healthy Stories has been used as a teaching tool at the Florida International University Stempel School of Public Health. MDCHD has partnered with the Florida Department of Corrections by lecturing and giving copies of Healthy Stories to those incarcerated in the Florida prison system. MDCHD will also give 300 copies of Healthy Stories to public health schools throughout the country. MDCHD will partner with Florida International University to become the first academic health department in the state and will develop a public health creative writing course. MDCHD has enlisted the help of several partners, including the Florida Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to distribute the publication further and inspire countless others. The United States Army has posted the book for the reading pleasure of its scientific and medical staff. MDCHD has given copies of Healthy Stories to the Dade County Medical Association's library and has also given Healthy Stories to hospitalized and sick individuals to brighten their spirits. This collaboration will allow Healthy Stories to grow in its numbers of authors, readers, and educators. This will help spread the word, which will hopefully lead to a tipping point where Healthy Stories will be considered the national public health story book.
Agency Community RolesMDCHD relies on its community partners to help improve public health. As such, Healthy Stories is collaborating with the University of Miami for additional authors. Healthy Stories has been used as a teaching tool at the Florida International University Stempel School of Public Health. MDCHD has partnered with the Florida Department of Corrections by lecturing and giving copies of Healthy Stories to those incarcerated in the Florida prison system. MDCHD will give 300 copies of Healthy Stories to public health schools throughout the country. MDCHD will also partner with Florida International University to become the first academic health department in the state and will develop a public health creative writing course. MDCHD has enlisted the help of several partners, including the Florida Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to distribute the publication further and inspire countless others. The United States Army has posted the book for the reading pleasure of its scientific and medical staff. MDCHD has given copies of Healthy Stories to the Dade County Medical Association's library and to hospitalized and sick individuals to brighten their spirits. This collaboration will allow Healthy Stories to grow in its numbers of authors, readers, and educators. This will help spread the word which will hopefully lead to a tipping point where Healthy Stories will be considered the national public health story book. Costs and ExpendituresIn summer 2007, the State of Florida, Department of Health, MDCHD, published “Healthy Stories,” a booklet of public health vignettes. Healthy Stories recounts experiences of health department employees and memorializes the 66-year history of institutional memory. For example, a lady allows 400 rats to run rampant through her house. A cougar attacks and mauls a five-year-old girl at a toddler’s birthday party. A box of human ashes arrives at the health department with no identification of the remains. If truth is stranger than fiction, when it comes to public health, the proof can be found in Healthy Stories. Since its modest beginnings as a historical compilation of interesting public health incidents, Healthy Stories has flourished. The original compilation was emailed to over 1000 Miami-Dade and Monroe County Health Department employees. Due to its overwhelming positive response, the MDCHD was emboldened to expand its readership. In July 2007, a paperback collection was published for distribution to representatives of organizations and our community partners with an interest in our local public health history. These groups picked up “Healthy Stories” with enthusiasm. The Florida Public Health Association distributed the booklet to its state-wide membership at its annual educational conference. Eleven internet sites published Healthy Stories in full. All fifty-five libraries in Miami-Dade County received a copy of Healthy Stories to put on their shelves. A copy of Healthy Stories was donated to every public health association in the nation. The project accelerated from there. Word of mouth spread quickly. Now public health groups as far away as Kansas have requested the right to use Healthy Stories as a model for publishing their own collections and for training their employees on the principles of public health. Through Healthy Stories, Miami-Dade County Health Department secured its history. Why the unexpected response? The Health Department has tapped into a rare commodity: a vehicle to invigorate its public health workforce by illustrating that an individual employee can make a difference. Employees have stated the stories were “absolutely fascinating,” “inspirational,” “awesome” and “amazing.” One reader wrote, “This is such a great story of persistence, commitment to community, innovation, quickness and just [is] simply marvelous. Thanks.” With positive feedback like that, the MDCHD knew that our mission, vision and values were being conveyed by a medium – true-life stories of drama, humor and public service – that reached people in a personal and compelling manner. But Health Department employees are not the only readers who have been touched. This chronicle of public health workers in action in real world settings has morphed into an effective tool to demystify and educate the general public as to what public health workers actually do on a day-to-day basis. (Unlike firemen or law enforcement officers, the public rarely sees public health workers depicted on television or in the movies.) Healthy Stories demonstrates, in an entertaining fashion, that previously little known public health servants provide services that help protect the public’s daily lives. As for the MDCHD, this unexpected response has provided dividends that cannot be bought. With public understanding comes public support for the MDCHD goals. The next step is to continue to publish yearly booklets and then compile five years worth of vignettes into one volume for distribution in national bookstores. We also are working on creating a website at www.healthystories.org. Further, we are in the process of translating Healthy Stories in Creole and Spanish for publication. MDCHD staff time for the task of writing and editing the stories is difficult to quantify. The cost of publishing the storybook was $4,800 for 1,000 hardcopies. These sums were paid by the Miami-Dade County Health Department with the Florida Public Health Association purchasing 30 ImplementationTo attain the first goal, preserving the institutional memory of long-term employees, MDCHD solicited stories from its staff through e-mail and direct contact. MDCHD editorial staff worked with employees to commemorate one or more of their experiences. The editorial staff reviewed the stories and created the final version. The finalized stories were distributed first by e-mail and then in book form. To attain the second goal, inspiring the public health workforce, MDCHD held a book launching party and invited all members of the MDCHD to discuss the stories and their own experiences. MDCHD is in the initial phases of creating www.healthystories.org, which will allow the health department to track readership. MDCHD is also in the process of translating Healthy Stories 2007 in Spanish and Creole for distribution to Latin and Haitian communities. MDCHD has a five-year strategic plan. Each year, it plans to accumulate and publish a new collection of Healthy Stories. It also plans to increase the reach to different audiences by advertising on different Web sites. The goal is also to have an advertisement in "Writer’s Digest" to have writers submit stories about public health. Lecturing regarding the book continues. Finally, in 2011, MDCHD plans to compile the yearly Healthy Stories into one volume for national distribution at bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders.
As the branches of the story tree grew, the stories began to produce fruit. Parents used the stories to dissuade their children from smoking. Employees commenced medical care after long procrastination periods. Readers felt empowered to discuss their relationship with alcohol. Stories brought readers' emotions to the surface, allowing for better mental health. Writers were given an opportunity to share their personal stories. The stories have made MDCHD's writers more concise, editors more demanding, and readers more analytical.
Presently, the editorial staff of Healthy Stories is composed of 11 members. The editor-in-chief has commenced succession planning with junior editors to continue the process when the editor-in-chief retires. The process of senior editors mentoring junior editors is ongoing. MDCHD is firmly committed to the preservation of its institutional memory.
 
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