PITTSBURGH, Sept. 29, 2014 – The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health will receive nearly $3.4 million from the federal government over the next four years to establish and operate a training center intended to improve the nation’s public health system.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) selected Pitt Public Health to create the Region 3 Public Health Training Center to serve Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It also will serve as the health informatics training center for the entire country.
The center will provide free training sessions to public health professionals on a variety of topics, ranging from behavioral health programming for smoking cessation to computer programs that track an infectious disease spread and simulate interventions to stop it.
“This is a critical investment in our nation’s public health infrastructure and represents a wonderful opportunity for Pitt Public Health to further share our innovations in data collection and analysis,” said Margaret Potter, J.D., M.S., principal investigator of the grant and professor of health policy and management at Pitt Public Health.
Pitt Public Health has served as the Public Health Training Center for Pennsylvania for the past 14 years. In the new regionalization of the HRSA training centers, Pitt Public Health will oversee local training sites run by Drexel University School of Public Health, which will serve eastern Pennsylvania; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which will serve Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia; the Virginia Department of Health, which will serve Virginia; and West Virginia University School of Public Health, which will serve West Virginia.
“Monitoring for air and water pollution, inspecting restaurants for food safety, containing infectious disease outbreaks — these are all examples of the crucial work done by people who serve in our public health sector,” said Ms. Potter. “In order for public health professionals to keep up with the latest technical developments in their fields, they need formal continuing education programs. That’s what the training center provides.”
Due to Pitt Public Health’s prowess in collecting, analyzing and disseminating health-related data, the Region 3 Public Health Training Center will run sessions in health informatics nationwide. The school’s Public Health Dynamics Laboratory has developed programs including Project TychoTM, the Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics (FRED) and the LEgal Network Analyzer (LENA), which can assist public health professionals in making decisions based on real-world data.
“Local public health departments collect a treasure trove of data. However, they often don’t have the time, personnel or resources to turn that data into useful information that will inform their work,” said Ms. Potter. “What we’ll be able to do is give them the tools and the training to do their own analyses quickly and efficiently.”
For example, knowing how to use certain data analysis programs, such as the ones developed by Pitt Public Health, during a disease outbreak could help a public health department make decisions on how to allocate its budget, what expertise it might need to bring in to manage the outbreak, and what laws or policies might support or constrain the response.