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June 28, 2005 

Maryland’s Environmental Health Infrastructure Needs Repair

Report recommends workforce and communication improvements

Maryland’s local environmental public health professionals are essential for responding and managing public health risks from Hurricane Isabel to the post-September 11 anthrax attack to the drought of 2002. However, the state’s environmental public health infrastructure is fragile, neglected, fragmented and under-funded, according to the findings of a report by Thomas Burke, PhD, and colleagues from the Center for Excellence in Community Environmental Health Practice at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The report, Profile of Maryland Environmental Health Practice, provides the first comprehensive county-by county review of environmental public health practices throughout Maryland. The report offers recommendations for improving workforce development, funding, technology and legal responsibility in order to strengthen Maryland’s environmental public health infrastructure and protect the health and wellbeing of its citizens from environmental threats.

“Maryland’s environmental public health workforce is dedicated, hardworking and concerned about the future. These environmental health professionals not only ensure that our food and water are safe, but they also protect us from disease outbreaks and guide us during disasters or terrorist attacks,” said Burke, who is director of the Center for Excellence in Community Environmental Health Practice and a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

According to Burke, state and local leaders must consider environmental public health as a critical component of a healthy Maryland when making budget and policy decisions. “We are sharing our recommendations from the Profile report with state and local agencies so that they can take the necessary steps to overhaul and integrate Maryland’s environmental public health workforce and secure our health and wellbeing for the future,” he said.

“While often taken for granted, the work of environmental public health practitioners at local health departments remains at the forefront of efforts to control many of the factors that cause disease,” said Rodney Glotfelty RS, MPH, chairman of the Maryland Association of County Health Officers.

“The Hopkins report highlights many of the strengths of Maryland’s environmental health infrastructure and the problem areas that must be promptly addressed to maintain and enhance our ability to protect the public. Our organization looks forward to working with state policy leaders in developing a plan that, when implemented, will ensure the continuation and enhancement of our professional workforce and improve the state infrastructure that supports them,” added Glotfelty.
 
Key findings of the report:

• Environmental public health funding is vulnerable to budget cuts, which could be alleviated with dedicated funding for core environmental health programs.

• The workforce needs better compensation and career opportunities to recruit and retain environmental public health professionals.

• Environmental health professionals need training necessary to upgrade their environmental public health knowledge to adequately address issues such as terrorism, natural disasters and emerging environmental health threats.

• Coordination and communication between federal, state and local environmental health agencies need to be improved to assure that the health of the public is protected.

• County agencies often lack sufficient authority to enact or enforce critical environmental public health laws and regulations.

The report was funded by the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The complete report is available at www.jhsph.edu/Marylandprofile and at the Center for Excellence in Community Environmental Health Practice website at www.jhsph.edu/ecehp or by calling 410-614-4587.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Lowe
at 410-955-6878 orpaffairs@jhsph.edu.