What is public health, and why is it important to our nation?
Have you ever wondered exactly what public health departments do, or why it is an important part of our health system?
What is public health?
Public health protects and promotes the health of people and the communities where they live, work, learn, and play every day.
The traditional healthcare system involves doctors, nurses, and other therapists working in conjunction with clinics and hospitals to provide care for individuals who are sick or suffering from an illness or injury.
The public health system involves doctors and nurses, and other licensed professionals, typically working from clinics or public health departments to provide services and information to the public every day to prevent people from getting sick or injured in the first place.
How and when did public health begin in the U.S.?
Public health has played an important role in the U.S. for more than two centuries.
The U.S. Public Health Service credits John Adams with establishing a national public health policy in 1798 with the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen.
As a result of that Act, the Marine Hospital Service was formed. During the 1800s, these hospitals were located in key cities in the U.S. and became the foundation of our national public health system.
In the early 1900s, multiple disease epidemics caused the U.S. Public Health System to focus on the general population.
In an effort to stop infectious diseases in the U.S., the public health system encouraged vaccine development. Before the end of the century, illnesses due to vaccine-preventable diseases had declined dramatically.
Food safety also improved greatly in the 1900s, mostly due to improved sanitation practices, such as hand washing, pasteurization, refrigeration, and better care for livestock.
What does the U.S. Public Health System do today?
Today, public health covers a variety of systems and services that contribute to the quality of everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink and swim in.
Public health continues to monitor disease trends and communicates this information with traditional health systems at home and abroad.
Public health sets safety standards for the food we eat and the places we work and live. The U.S. Public Health Service ensures that our waste disposal systems do not contaminate our environment.
Public health continually evaluates the health of our population, provides vaccines, and works to ensure that illnesses do not threaten the lives or well-being of the people who live here.
Where do I get public health services?
Public health is provided everywhere, every day, for everyone in the U.S.
Most counties, and some larger cities, have public health departments in their area. You can find your local public health department online or by contacting your county or local municipal office.
What services does public health provide?
Public health departments provide services in accordance with federal and state laws, as well as regulations and mandates specific to grants and service delivery requirements.
Many public health programs are common among health departments throughout the U.S. However, local health departments may also offer additional services unique to the needs of the specific populations or geographic areas they serve.
Contact your local health department if you have questions or are interested in the services they provide.
Who qualifies for public health services?
Some programs provided by public health departments may have age limitations, income guidelines, or be specific to certain individuals (such as the WIC Supplemental Nutrition Program for pregnant or post-partum women, infants, and children.)
A variety of public health programs, such as immunizations, environmental and food sanitation services, and education on personal and environmental health and wellness concerns are available to all people.
Many health departments can also bill Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance for covered personal health services.
Anyone can contact the health department to discuss or report situations related to personal and environmental health concerns.
Public health is here for you.
From conducting disease surveillance to inspecting water wells and septic systems to working with traditional health care systems, public health works to assure conditions in which people can be healthy.
Public health improves our quality of life, helps children thrive, saves money, and reduces human suffering.
Help your local health department help you, your family, and your community. Contact us whenever you have a question. We’re here to make sure you can have the healthiest day possible.