172: How to Rebuild Public Trust

Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota’s former health commissioner, reacts to the Harvard poll that says most people trust their public health department; Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, explains a new ASTHO report that outlines eight ways...


Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota’s former health commissioner, reacts to the Harvard poll that says most people trust their public health department; Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, explains a new ASTHO report that outlines eight ways health department leaders can support effective programs to address healthcare associated infections; and ASTHO welcomes three new sponsors to its Public Health TechXpo next week – careMESH, WellSky, and Google Health.

ASTHO Report: Eight Ways Health Department Leaders Can Support Effective HAI/AR Programs

ASTHO Website: Public Health TechXpo

TechXpo Silver Sponsor: careMESH

TechXpo Silver Sponsor: WellSky

TechXpo Silver Sponsor: Google Health

ASTHO logo

Transcript

ROBERT JOHNSON:

This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, May 5, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

 

Fallout from the pandemic could take years to reverse. As agencies consider the next phase of COVID-19 and how to catch up in other areas of public health, many also are thinking about how to rebuild trust.

Dr. Ed Ehlinger is the former Minnesota state health commissioner. We talked with him about public trust in today's morning conversation.

A recent Harvard survey done for ASTHO says most people still trust their public health officials. What's your reaction to that finding?

DR. ED EHLINGER:

I think people trust the individuals that they work with. You know, just like when they surveyed if you trust Congress—no, I don't trust Congress, but I trust my congressperson. And I think that people, when they get to know the officials in public health agencies, they say, “Yeah, they're smart, they're well educated, they're dedicated, they're compassionate. You know, I trust them, but I don't trust the system.”

And I think it goes under the realm of the we don't trust government. And that's been sort of the mantra since the 1980s, when the president at the time said government is the problem, not the solution. And I think that's why public health in general is not looked upon favorably, but some of the individuals in it are in their local communities.

JOHNSON:

So, you think, then, that we still have some work to do to shore up or continue to rebuild the public trust in public health?

EHLINGER:

Well, without a doubt. I don't think the public trusts public health, I think they trust their public health officials—those are two different things. And I don't think that they trust public health, just like they don't trust government—they think it's the problem as opposed to the solution. And that lack of trust, which has been building over the last 42 years, has led to a decrease in investment in public health, which makes it more likely that public health is not going to do the job that it was set up to do.

For example, I think COVID was a stress test for our public health system, which has been underfunded for the last 45 years. And it was hard to respond because they did not have the resources—public health didn't have the resources—to respond as effectively as it would like because it had been under invested in.

JOHNSON:

How likely is it that we'll be able to move the needle on this issue in the next few years?

EHLINGER:

I think we're paying the price for our underinvestment in public health right now. And I think people are seeing that we did not respond as well as we could to the pandemic. We also have not been responding well enough to climate change. We're not responding well enough to all of the problems in our water systems. And we're paying the price.

And we're starting to see that this is going to affect our communities, it's going to affect the livability of cities, and it's going to affect the livability of every place in our country. And I think people are starting to recognize that they're going to have to change our investment strategies—investment of not just money, but investment of policies and intellectual capital.

 

JOHNSON:

A new ASTHO report outlines eight ways health department leaders can support effective programs to address healthcare-associated infections.

Dr. Scott Harris is state health officer in Alabama. He says health officials are the right people for the job.

DR. SCOTT HARRIS:

We're in a good position in the state health agency to just interact with others that are doing the same kind of work—with our healthcare systems, with nursing homes, with, you know, other provider groups.

We're in a good position to kind of advocate for the right policies to try to, you know, promote the aims and goals of this document. And we just sort of have the bully pulpit, in some cases, to be able to get people's attention and help them to understand the importance of this.

JOHNSON:

Dr. Harris worked on the report as a member of ASTHO’s policy committee. He says it's an important read for his busy colleagues.

HARRIS:

It really is something you can read in, you know, probably under 10 minutes. It's not a very technical document at all. It's more conceptual, and just sort of has a way of sort of maybe broadening your view of what your HAI program is about.

JOHNSON:

You can find a link to the report in the show notes.

 

Finally today, ASTHO welcomes three new sponsors to its lineup of organizations taking part in next week's Public Health TechXpo. careMESH, WellSky, and Google Health are silver sponsors.

If you haven't signed up, you can do it using the link in the show notes. Registration is free to those with .mil, .gov, and.edu emails. The event is May 10th and 11th online.

 

Before we go, we want to remind you to follow the show on your podcast app. And if you're on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn, we'd love a shout out.

That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Scott Harris MD, MPH, FACP, FIDSA

State Health Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health

Edward Ehlinger MD MSPH

Acting Chair at HHS Secretary's Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality