As the nation and Peoria County prepare to celebrate Public Health Week April 4th through 10th, I am reminded of the unique and distinctive role local health departments fulfill in creating conditions in which people can be healthy.

Unfortunately, our current focus as a nation on the cost of illness care has overshadowed our attention to true health improvement. Public health programs have had a significant influence regarding the improved health status of our population.

During the 20th century, public health in this country made incredible advances that led to a dramatic increase in longevity. Today, the average American’s life expectancy at birth is approaching 80 years—a 40-year increase over the average in 1900, when diseases of infancy and childhood took a high toll. In large part, the accomplishments of public health initiatives did not stem from major scientific advances. Rather, the credit goes, primarily, to broad-based public health programs that involved epidemiology, public health education and communication, and policy intervention. These low-technology programs not only resulted in a huge saving of lives, they also improved the quality of life.

Illinois’ local health departments are the bedrock of the healthcare system. Local public health agencies protect the water you drink, the food you eat, and provide health protection for children via immunizations. Additionally, the local health department serves as the sentinel to ensure that infectious diseases, either naturally occurring or intentionally introduced, do not gain a foothold in a community. As part of this health protection mission, local health departments provide community-based health protection and prevention services that are beyond the capacity of those provided by medical care or social service organizations.

However, successful pursuit of public health requires an understanding of community and a shared future. While government’s presence in public health activities is a critical structural tie, it takes cooperation by the entire community to achieve optimum public health.

To attain the vision of “healthy people in healthy communities,” we must assure that all communities, no matter how small, have access to essential public health services. All stakeholders who can contribute to action as a community health system are encouraged to assess their role and responsibility, consider changes, and devise ways to more effectively collaborate with partners. They can transform the way they “do business” through better actions to achieve a healthy population on their own and position themselves to be part of an effective partnership in assuring the health of the population.

Subsequently, broad societal action is required at every level, and such action needs to be better coordinated by all individuals, families, community members, businesses, workers, healthcare providers and policy makers. Furthermore, responding to this vision requires a long-term public and political commitment to ensure that all policies, financial and organizational resources, and political and public wills are in place to assure the presence of the conditions necessary for all citizens to live longer, productive, healthier lives.

The Peoria City/County Health Department is proud to be part of a system that plays such a significant role in the health of our community. In this role, the Health Department is facilitating a strategic approach to community health improvement in Peoria County. This community health planning effort was initiated in 2009 and is intended to achieve optimal health in Peoria County by identifying and using resources wisely, taking into account unique local circumstances and needs, to form effective partnerships for strategic action.

The planning effort is being managed by a steering committee comprised of representatives of key stakeholders within Peoria County’s community health system. The Health Department’s vision is for a process that results in a community-driven and community-owned health improvement initiative. The ultimate goal is the development of a system-based health improvement strategy that embraces a diverse network of community health partners, leading to a better coordination of services and resources, higher appreciation and awareness of system challenges, and less duplication of service. iBi