By Ayesha Johnson, Senior Human Services Program Specialist, Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County
The Office of Health Equity (OHE) in the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County (DOH-Hillsborough) is committed to achieving health equity so that all residents of Hillsborough County can achieve their full health potential. This includes delivering programs that serve priority populations, such as our family planning and dental programs. We are also committed to effecting policy and systemic changes aimed at reducing barriers to achieving optimal health and promoting health equity.
Health in All Policies (HiAP) promotes collaboration, sustainability, and equity. Often, the best laid plans have negative impacts that no one involved thought of, and once the plan is executed, the negative impacts can be difficult to reverse or mitigate. The type of collaboration promoted by HiAP helps to bring all relevant subject matter experts together, which better promotes health for all.
Benefits and Challenges of Health Impact Assessments
OHE’s work in promoting HiAP has provided us with opportunities to partner with other professionals to conduct health impact assessments (HIAs). HIAs allow us to systematically evaluate policies, plans, and programs during the design phase, which helps that to ensure that health impacts are considered and appropriately addressed before the plan is executed.
HIAs are conducted to focus on a defined geographical area. At times, the data that you need to describe the area that you are focused on is not available. Additionally, it is helpful to have a graphic to emphasize data that may be presented in another way (e.g., tables).
Meeting the Challenges through Tracking
Using the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network, I have been able to create maps to show how my county ranks within the state for hospitalizations for asthma, and I was able to create tables to show health-related illness for the area. I was also able to explore data available at the census tract level (e.g., residents’ access to parks and green space).
This type of data is helpful to provide evidence of why a land redevelopment project may improve the health of a community. Understanding the distribution of community assets also provided ideas for how the land should be repurposed. Exploring the number of housing units with no vehicle available in an area can help decision makers prioritize transportation improvement projects.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and a map is a powerful tool in helping to decide which path is best to promote and improve human health. As we continue to enhance data tracking, we are better able to achieve health equity as we improve population health.