Environmental Workforce Characteristics in the Rural Public Health Sector

Research center:
Lead researcher:
Project funded:
September 2009
Project completed:
January 2012
Environmental risks to rural populations are understudied relative to urban areas despite increasing recognition that rural populations are potentially exposed to these risks from agricultural, mining, industrial or other sources. These environmental risks and associated health problems carry corresponding implications for public health programs and services, and highlight the need for a rural public health workforce that includes appropriate environmental health specialists. This project analyzes the environmental workforce characteristics of the rural public health sector to inform policy relative to coordination of rural environmental health services. The aims of this study are to 1. determine the number and qualifications of environmental specialists employed in rural (RUCA codes 4 and higher) versus urban public health settings (RUCA codes 1 through 3), 2. analyze perceptions of shortages of environmental public health workforce capacity in rural versus urban settings, and 3. analyze collaboration and coordination between public health and environmental protection professionals at both state and local levels. Existing data sets will be used in this study and include national profiles of local health departments collected by NACCHO. Additional surveys of district and local public health agencies will be conducted in six to eight diverse States. The States will be selected to assure representation of the four organizational models which represent different relationships between the State and local public health agencies including centralized , decentralized , shared , and mixed models. Because of the significant diversity of local public health agencies within States, including the population size and density in the areas served, at least five local or district public health agencies in each State, (including at least one urban, one small town rural, one large town rural, and where appropriate, one agency on an international border), will be selected to be in the study. The research brief and final policy report will be made available, along with supporting documentation, via the WVRHRC website and the Research Gateway and Listserv. The study reports will be disseminated to all stakeholders, including the National Association of County and City Health Officials, state offices of rural health, and local health departments as appropriate. The Expert Work Group and Research Network-Users Group will also advise the WVRHRC on additional dissemination methods.