According to Merriam-Webster, public health is “the art and science dealing with the protection and improvement of community health by organized community effort and including preventive medicine and sanitary and social science” (public health). For this reason, public health initiatives play a major role in society, not only for the medically underserved, but also for the rest of the population. The definition by Merriam-Webster suggests that public health is everyone’s business and everyone’s responsibility, because it can potentially affect an entire population through a public health crisis, such as a communicable disease epidemic.
According to the American Public Health Association, public health is about prevention, as well as the development of policies and surveillance of the health of a population. In addition, it is noted that public health is important because it reduces costs and human suffering, helps children, and it improves upon the quality of life of the population (APHA). State public health agencies are responsible for public health initiatives that include spreading awareness and implementing health programs and services for the population.
Functions of Public Health Agencies
Public health agencies operate under specific roles and core functions that mandate their responsibilities to the health of the public. According to (Beitsch, Brooks, Grigg, & Menachemi, 2006), a public health agency serves as a state’s public health authority and it plays various roles such as also serving as a rural health authoritiy, managing health labs, serving children with special needs, and managing minority health issues. Public health agencies also take on the responsibilities of monitoring environmental and mental health of communities, as well as regulating state health insurance, Medicaid and regulations for state nursing homes. In addition, public health agency responsibilities include public health emergency and disaster preparedness to deal with public emergencies such as the effects of bioterriorism, disease epidemics or pandemics, and natural disasters.
There are various types of public health agencies that specialize in dealing with one or more of the above responsibilities through various public programs and services, such as Maternal and Child Health Services.
Maternal and Child Health Services
Government organizations provide several health programs designed for aiding people in various communities with health care problems through essential services that specifically help them maintain healthy lifestyles, or assists them with healing efforts when health issues arise. One of these types of government organizations is Maternal and Child Health Services (MCH), which provides programs for the purpose of improving the health of children.
MCH is a state-sponsored program that operates on the local level, as a basic service of public health agencies. The core services of MCH include direct health care, and enabling, population-based, and infrastructure-building services. These services are provided through a comprehensive program that is focused on caring for mothers and children. These services are mandated by a grant called Title V Maternal and Child Health Block, which supports various programs for the MCH initiative (HRSA).
Core Services of MCH
The purpose of direct health care services under MCH is to fill in health care services gaps and meet the basic health care needs of children, particularly those with special needs conditions such as autism and hemophilia. The enabling services deal with making sure program participants have adequate transportation to receive health care, and this level of service also assists with translations for language barriers between participants and care providers through outreach programs. Also enabling services include health education and support services that help participants obtain insurance through case management services. The population-based services of MCH take care of children’s needs from birth, such as health screenings for newborn babies and children, including lead poisoning screening. In addition, this level of service is responsible for ensuring children are immunized and receive adequate oral health and nutrition. Finally, infrastructure-building services are related to assessing, evaluating and planning policies, as well as needs assessments. In addition, this level of service is responsible for monitoring, training and developing standards, conducting research, implementing information systems and maintaining quality systems of care (HSRA).
MCH and Core Functions of Public Health
Maternal Child Health Services contributes to the core functions of public health by ensuring services are administered to mothers and children in compliance with Title V Block Grant Program initiatives, as endorsed by the Social Security Act. Title V dictates requirements, under the program, that serve the health needs of mothers and their children by making sure they have adequate access to quality health care. This includes directives such as reducing infant death syndrome, providing comprehensive prenatal and postnatal care to expectant mothers, maintaining ongoing child health assessments, delivering child preventive care, carrying out health care initiatives for children with special needs, and ensuring expectant mothers have contact details for making applications for health services (HRSA).
In addition, Bekemeier, Grembowski, Yang, & Herting (2011) state “Research indicates that focused prevention and primary care interventions intended to reach speciﬁc vulnerable populations can reduce mortality disparities and improve health outcomes, particularly among women and infants” (p. 615). This is precisely why MCH is an important aspect of public health core functions, because it protects the most vulnerable of society, and local health departments are responsible for addressing disparities in any area of public health promotion.
Influences of MCH
The MCH specifically influences people in the workplace because many working people either know someone who needs or uses the services of MCH, or they need or use the services themselves. Additionally, MCH influences the health care system, as a whole, because it serves a large part of the total population. As mentioned, public health is everyone’s concern, especially when issues arise that affect the population such as specific health barriers. This is particularly true with barriers to the administration of services provided by organizations such as MCH. For example, MCH services often deal with a common problem among some expectant mothers – substance abuse. A women’s substance abuse while pregnant causes a neonatal condition called Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. The effects of this syndrome include withdrawal symptoms suffered by the baby after birth, due to exposure to substances abused by the mother during pregnancy. For instance, the expectant mother may ingest too many prescription medications such as painkillers or anxiety drugs, while pregnant, or she may have an addiction to illegal drugs. No matter if the substances are legal or illegal, abuse of any substances while a mother is pregnant results in the incidence of the baby having to suffer withdrawal symptoms after birth (Department of Health).
MCH not only treats Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, but it also promotes prevention initiatives and must report suspected cases to the Department for Human Services for investigation. Moreover, MCH provides information on increasing awareness and implementing interventions, as well as arranging drug use screenings for pregnant women.
Roles of MCH Agency Workers
According to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB), reaching the organization’s goals is accomplished through the efforts of key staff members in specific areas of service within the scope of the MCH organizational structure, as shown below.
Maternal and Child Health Bureau
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
MCH agency workers include key staff members such as physicians, nurses, psychologists, case workers, and counselors, as well as administrative and executive staff. These staff members are put in place to carry out the strategic plan initiatives of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau which includes its mission statement that proposes providing national leadership for the purpose of improving physical and mental health of mothers and children of the population. The MCHB mission statement also includes a directive to improve the safety and well-being of this segment of the population. MCHB provides a framework for MCH organizations at state and local levels to follow, and promotes family-centered, culturally-competent resources and programs for communities to meet the societal and health care needs of its residents (HRSA).
Protecting and improving community health through advocacy, prevention and intervention is a key focus of public health systems, and this is also a key to maintaining a balanced approach to many societal issues, as it relates to public health concerns.
This is the basis for the strategic framework provided by the MCHB, which strives to ensure all children are nurtured to a healthy adulthood; the safety, health and well-being of women are a priority; communities engage with health promoting activities; equal access to quality health care; health disparities are eliminated; public health agencies adhere to the highest quality standards possible; and society recognizes and supports public health initiatives on all levels (HRSA).
Beitsch, L. M., Brooks, R. G., Grigg, M., & Menachemi, N. (2006, January). Structure and Functions of State Public Health Agencies. American Journal of Public Health, 167-172.
Bekemeier, B., Grembowski, D., Yang, Y. R., & Herting, J. R. (2011, April 20). Local Public Health Delivery of Maternal Child Health Services: Are Speciﬁc Activities Associated with Reductions in Black–White Mortality Disparities? Maternal Child Health Journal, 16(1), 615-623.
Department of Health. (n.d.). Maternal and Child Health / Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Retrieved from Tennessee Department of Health: http://health.state.tn.us/MCH/NAS/index.shtml
HRSA. (n.d.). Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant Program. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) Retrieved from Health Resources and Services Administration: http://mchb.hrsa.gov/programs/titlevgrants/;
Neonatal. (n.d.). (Encyclopedia Britannica Company) Retrieved from Merrian-Webster Online: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neonatal
public health. (n.d.). Retrieved from Merriam-Webster.com: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/public%20health
Roemer, H., Banner, W., Katz, V. L., & Plinsky, M. (2012, July 20). Drugs of Abuse in Pregnancy. Retrieved from American College of Emergency Physicians News: http://www.acepnews.com/news/news-from-the-college/single-article/drugs-of-abuse-in-pregnancy/3ebf08e46523a6084bdcb1a70dddb6fc.html