Eastern Health’s Health Status Report: A student’s opportunity, a social worker’s reality, and a public health professional’s vision

Eastern Health’s Health Status Report provides population health and demographic information, rooted in the social determinants of health. The report consists of chapters which cover a wide variety of topic areas. Each chapter has a specific focus but the sum of the whole is a document with various functions in public health. It also has various meanings, depending on the lens through which it is viewed.

This fall, as a part of my Master of Public Health degree, I am completing a practicum with Eastern Health in Pandemic and Public Health Planning. I am very fortunate to have been given this opportunity and am quite excited about contributing to the organization’s Health Status Report as one of my practicum projects.

Prior to undertaking studies in public health, I worked as a social worker. This presents me with a unique, yet challenging perspective, as I work to expand my view from a client-centered to a population health approach.

Kelly Butt, Regional Manager of Pandemic and Public Health Planning with Eastern Health, is responsible for health status reporting. From her perspective: “Health status reporting is vital in setting the public health agenda. Understanding health status allows for evidence-based program planning at an organizational level in order to guide the necessary work of public health in our region.”

The first Health Status Report prepared by Eastern Health was published in 2012. Feedback from public health stakeholders indicated that the value of this report could be enhanced by broadening the scope of the information presented and by ensuring that each section included the most recently available data.

In response, the report has been redesigned to be released in a monthly chapter style, over a two-year period. In this way, the information contained within it will be current for staff, stakeholders and people of the region. Furthermore, it will allow for flexibility to address current topics or issues that may arise.

Sarah Halfyard, a Policy, Planning and Research analyst with Pandemic and Public Health Planning, leads the development of the Health Status Report chapters. From her perspective: “The Health Status Report is an important instrument for program accountability. It provides health information that can be used to guide policy, meet program priorities and improve knowledge. Each chapter is context specific and can be used to assess the quality or effectiveness of a program or service, aid in service planning and budgeting, evaluate changes in population health over time, and/or identify health disparities.”

(L-R): Kelly Butt, Manager of Pandemic of Public Health Planning Ashley Crocker, Master of Public Health Student (Memorial University) Sarah Halfyard, Policy, Planning and Research Analyst

(L-R): Kelly Butt, Manager of Pandemic of Public Health Planning Ashley Crocker, Master of Public Health Student (Memorial University) Sarah Halfyard, Policy, Planning and Research Analyst

For me, the perspective is multidimensional. As a student, this process is a chance to make a meaningful contribution to this organization while reaping the benefits of a valuable learning opportunity. I am acquiring new skills, refining existing ones, learning and growing as I take part in this work. I am also incorporating the perspectives of health status reporting reflected above and shared by so many in the Public Health Program.

As a former social worker, I reflect on what it means to be a person within the statistics. I put a face, name and circumstance to each topic. I innately think of situations where I have seen people with some or many of the risk factors that can perpetuate or complicate health outcomes: low literacy and education, poverty, lack of social supports or inadequate housing to name a few. From this lens, the health status report shows the resilience of individuals in our region as they experience and overcome the challenges.

This client-centred perspective is often in direct contrast with my evolving population health-centred perspective. When I look at this material through the eyes of those who use it to inform their work, it is easy to see that, while this evidence is a sum of many individual circumstances and experiences, the totality provides an incredible picture that guides policies and planning.

The stories are not lost, the circumstances are not insignificant – rather the cumulative individual experiences are represented in a way that has the most value for those that can use them to help facilitate change.

Producing a completed chapter is a multi-step process that happens over approximately 18 weeks. Data has to be requested from multiple sources, analyzed and interpreted, graphs and charts have to be created and subsequent drafts and revisions then have to go through a review and approval process.

As I have been moving through this process over the past number of weeks, I can see the marriage of both my subjective and objective view on this information and I appreciate the personal growth that has resulted in this new perspective. Having experience on both sides of the statistics equips me with a new view that has become my most valuable piece of self-discovery. Through my public health studies thus far, I can see the whole picture. This report represents where I have been and will help direct where I am going.

Yes, there are difficult circumstances that affect people throughout the region but as I compare data from previous reports and see improvements in the health of the population, it is clear that individual challenges have been instrumental in creating change at the public health level.

As a student, this report represents an opportunity to grow, to learn and to contribute. As someone who once practiced social work, it provides a time to pause and think of the reality of individuals who have contributed to this report without even realizing they have done so. As a public health professional, this report represents a vision as it inspires new ways of doing things by putting knowledge into action. ■

This story was written by Ashley Crocker, a Master of Public Health student who recently completed a practicum with with Eastern Health in Pandemic and Public Health Planning.

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