Q&A with Oakland County Health Division, One of Last Year’s NHS Award Winners

Last year, Oakland County Health Division in Pontiac, Mich. won one of five National Health Security Awards. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) partnered with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to recognize local health departments that have demonstrated significant accomplishments in implementing health security-related initiatives within their jurisdictions via the National Health Security (NHS) award. Now in its third year, this year’s NHS Award winners will receive a travel scholarship to be recognized at the 2018 NACCHO Annual in New Orleans, La.

We recently caught up with Melanie Ben-Ezra, emergency preparedness coordinator, Oakland County Health Division, to chat about their award-winning program and any changes their health department has experienced in the past year.

Q: Tell us about your project. Have you updated or changed the project in the past year?

A: Our program addresses the need for effective and efficient communications among Oakland County hospitals and long-term care facilities during a public health emergency. The Oakland County Health Division established committees for hospitals and long-term care facilities because we recognized early on that there’s a benefit to strengthening the partnership between the two entities. These committees were formed to enhance communications amongst these groups and with the Health Division, in addition to connecting those agencies with local homeland security, and other Oakland County government entities. The Health Division helped strengthen planning efforts, and exercising those plans, empowering the committees to solidify the foundation of emergency preparedness among participating organizations. The program has yielded a lot of benefits in the last year.

Q: What benefits has your health department seen since the award?

A: This has been an interesting year for our county. There was recently a water main repair that resulted in a boil water advisory and/or complete loss of water for up to a full week for many communities in our county. There were varying degrees of impact. Fourteen communities (cities, villages, townships) within Oakland County were affected. During the event, we reaped the benefit of those partnerships we created in advance. Everyone knew to call the emergency operations center (EOC) and was well practiced in using the Michigan Health Alert Network (MIHAN), an automated system for alerting key health care and public safety personnel of conditions that would impact the health and safety of their residents.

This advanced notice helped facilities more adequately prepare for the loss of water. The EOC opened the night before the water loss and because key personnel had cell phone numbers and relationships with the folks working the EOC, they were prompted to communicate with one another early on.

Q: Were there unexpected benefits from implementing your program?

A: When we had the water main break, the improved communications in the public health community was definitely a benefit.

Q: Any thoughts you’d like to pass onto potential applicants of the NHS award?

A: Oakland County is continuously looking for ways to best serve public health partners and the community. The greatest ideas we’ve had thus far come from being actively involved and looking at the needs of our community partners and residents. Our greatest success comes from our ability to see the needs of the public through organizations who are also serving them.

Applications will be accepted now through June 1, 2018LHDs are invited to submit one application per category, but will only be eligible to win one award. To apply, click here. If you have questions, please contact the Preparedness team.

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