Cobb & Douglas Public Health, Georgia
March 30, 2016
Cobb & Douglas Public Health, Georgia
March 30, 2016
Chronically underfunded, responsible for meeting a daunting range of community and resident needs, and beset by unexpected requirements to adapt, the local health department (LHD) is continuously asked to do more and better with less. Yet, rather than accepting this constant state of transformation as a maze of obstacles, many LHDs are embracing the exhilarating opportunity to firmly position themselves as true leaders in community health, equity, and security. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) is presenting a series of stories about LHDs engaged in the conception and development of novel approaches to population health improvement, As they transform, LHDs are expanding their role as conveners and collaborators in the community, bringing together partners to create a meaningful vision of public health in the 21st century. This is part one of a three-part series.
Forces of Change
Health departments across the country have long established their roles in local health systems as trusted, neutral conveners; serving whole jurisdictions rather than segments of the population. So what happens when the forces of change – and an identity crisis – require that you reconsider your role in the community you serve?
Navigating the new world of healthcare, which includes addressing deeper system issues including health equity, means articulating a public health department’s role and value to the community, and making decisions based on data-driven information. Strong leadership also plays a large role, as leaders empower their staffs to work to their highest ability, and make a commitment to ongoing improvement.
In Georgia, there are 159 separate boards of health, divided into 18 districts. In District 3-1, serving Cobb & Douglas counties in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, the health department has set some ambitious goals. Accreditation was the catalyst that prompted District Health Director Dr. Jack Kennedy for Cobb & Douglas Public Health (CDPH) since 2008, to recognize the urgency of building a culture of quality and to position the local health department as a convener and data expert. As the first nationally-accredited health department in Georgia, CDPH has set the bar for its quality standards. By providing policymakers with carefully curated data, CDPH works to ensure local laws align with health improvement efforts to create targeted health initiatives for its communities.
The Leadership Factor
Classic factors for effective, dynamic leadership include establishing trust, demonstrating integrity, setting clear direction, cultivating relationships and capabilities, focusing on results, and promoting innovation. There are also intangible factors that create the environment for change, growth, and innovation. Effective leaders encourage and nurture their staff to advance as the organization’s mission advances as well. Dr. Kennedy and his Leadership Team embody those qualities to help both the health department and the staff realize their greatest potential.
Dr. Kennedy, a long-time, successful surgeon with an MBA, served as the founding board chairman of the Good Samaritan Health Center of Cobb after retiring from his medical practice in 2003. He helped raise over $3 million to launch the Christian-based primary care center for uninsured and underinsured residents. Tapped in 2008 to lead the local public health agency, Dr. Kennedy identified the need to bring a more disciplined approach to the agency in the area of business administration, to build a more solid infrastructure and to expand capacity.
In 2008, CDPH began updating its mission, vision and values statements and instituted a Balanced Scorecard approach that led to greater accountability and a different leadership structure. The Balanced Scorecard is a strategic planning and management system that aligns business activities to the vision and strategy of the organization, improves internal and external communications, and monitors organizational performance against strategic goals. The framework is being used to provide the contours, methodology, and structure to the process to monitor broad, key performance indicators from four perspectives: customer, internal business process, employee learning and growth, and financial. By implementing initiatives to close gaps, the agency is better able to serve the community and hold all stakeholders accountable for improved performance and outcomes.
The culture of CDPH is guided by five core values: continuous improvement, teamwork, integrity, leadership, and service excellence. Dr. Kennedy also emphasized that he encourages staff to get along well with one another. He spends time on the critical work of deliberately building a staff that excels in what he believes CDPH most needs: sound business and clinical administration, productive strategic partnerships, and excellent communication.
Dr. Kennedy attributes his outlook on “Local Health Department Leadership” to his education, his 25 years as a general surgeon, ten years as chairman of the WellStar Health System Department of Surgery, his faith, and his work collaborating within the local health system. He sees himself as a facilitator; someone who can ask good questions and help others to find the resources they need to make their programs the best possible. “We lead by example, with humility and persistent determination,” he said. “To me, you're not a leader if you get all the props or all the credit. You’re a leader when you move your program forward and serve the community the way you’re supposed to serve the community—with integrity, team work, service excellence, continuous improvement and leadership.”