Preparing the Florida Public Health Workforce for Legal Challenges

By Karen W. Geletko, MPH, Florida State University College of Medicine,

law imageThe term “public health preparedness” is often thought of in the context of ensuring preparations are adequate to deal with, reduce vulnerability to, and recover from emergency situations or disastrous events resulting from either natural or man-made causes. However, public health preparedness is also about being prepared to respond to the less catastrophic scenarios and problems that arise on a daily basis. Consider the following:

  • What are the permitting, construction, and monitoring requirements for limited use public water systems? What are the standards for private water systems?
  • Do tattoo establishments and body-piercing salons require a biomedical waste permit?
  • Who may declare a public health emergency and for how long?
  • What action should the health department take in regards to a practitioner who fails to report a communicable disease or condition?
  • What is the health department’s role in a complaint of a sanitary nuisance such as the keeping of diseased animals dangerous to human health?
  • Are delayed birth and death certificates allowed and if so, when?

In most cases, public health administrators and the public health workforce know how to respond in compliance with public health statutes to the above scenarios. However, in some instances they may not know the proper protocol for response or may be inexperienced in certain topic areas or situations. Or, if new to the state of Florida and unfamiliar with Florida statutes, they may act inaccurately based upon another jurisdiction’s rules and regulations. Therefore, the Center for Medicine and Public Health and the Center for Innovative Collaboration in Medicine and Law at the Florida State University College of Medicine (FSU COM) saw a need to create an innovative learning resource to educate Florida’s public health administrators and workforce on Florida’s public health statutes to enhance their preparedness capacity for responding to daily situations.

FSU COM worked in collaboration with the Florida Department of Health to create the online foundational course “Strengthening the Public Health Workforce through Increased Knowledge of Public Health Laws: An Online Training Module Series.” While the course was designed primarily for local county health department administrators in Florida, it is also intended to be utilized by additional local health department professionals such as environmental health and communicable disease administrators as well as front line staff. The course provides accurate and authoritative information, based on 2011 Florida statutes and regulations, through 19 modules organized by the following 12 topic areas: Communicable Disease Reporting, Environmental Health, Health Education, HIV/AIDS, Immunization, Maternal and Child Health, Overview of Public Health Law, Public Health Preparedness, Sanitary Nuisance, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Tuberculosis Control, and Vital Statistics. Due to the amount of content and statutes associated with Environmental Health, it was further broken down into the following seven modules: Drinking Water, Septic Tank, Swimming Pools, Biomedical waste/Tattoos/Body Piercings/Tanning Beds, Migrant Labor Camps, Mobile Home Parks, and Group Homes/Food Service Inspection. Modules were modeled upon a course developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Public Health Law Program (PHLP) called Public Health Law 101: A Foundational Course for Public Health Practitioners.

Each module presents case scenarios and examines whether or not the scenarios presented are within the jurisdiction of the health department based on public health law/statutes. Additionally, the modules identify internal and external partners that may need to be consulted. The modules vary in length from approximately 15-60 minutes with an average length of 30 minutes. A legal consultant and former FL DOH general counsel developed the content for the modules, which were subsequently edited and approved by the appropriate divisions and bureaus within FL DOH. The course is available to Florida health department employees through the Florida Department of Health’s intranet site.

In addition to educating Florida’s public health workforce on Florida statutes to enhance legal preparedness, the purpose of the project was also to strengthen linkages between Florida’s medical education of its physicians and public health with a focus on the laws affecting public health needs. Therefore, we wanted the course to be available to others outside of the health department that may have a need or interest. The course is available to the public through the FSU COM website. To access this free resource click on “Resource” on the right menu bar then click on the training: Strengthening the Public Health Workforce through Increased Knowledge of Public Health Laws: An Online Training Module Series.

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