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In Wake of Budget Cuts, Kansas Uses NWCPHP Epi Modules to Train Workers

NWCPHP worked with Kansas to map online course competencies to Council on Linkages.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment used NWCPHP online courses to train their workers in disease investigation.

February 6, 2012

Budget cuts have considerably reduced staff and resources in state, local, and tribal health departments across the country. In Kansas, reduction of resources has meant significant cuts to workforce training. Looking for ways to maintain training levels while at the same time using fewer funds to do so, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment has used NWCPHP online modules to train their workers in disease investigation.

Using the TrainingFinder Real-time Affiliate Integrated Network (TRAIN), an online learning portal, the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment discovered NWCPHP's online modules that are offered free of charge.

Online training is an important option for today's public health professionals, particularly for states like Kansas. Kansas is the 15th-largest state in the nation with 100 local health departments (LHD) in 105 counties. Eighty LHDs have fewer than 10 employees and 37 have fewer than five employees.

“We have many frontier areas where staff wear multiple hats. They need flexible training opportunities that online modules provide,” said Deb Nickels, RN, BSN, KS-TRAIN Administrator, Bureau of Community Health Systems, Department of Health and Environment.

In the fall of 2011, the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment collaborated on the development of an Epidemiology in Practice training plan to meet preparedness deliverables. This collaboration also led to discussions about how to improve the use of public health data, a key workforce competency for accreditation and emergency preparedness.

Previously, with preparedness funds, Kansas offered several in-person trainings for staff, but going forward, staff knew they needed to expand the use of online materials. Said Nickels, “We do not have the capacity to build our own courses so we reviewed materials from all over the country. We decided the NWCPHP Epi modules were the best option because they had measurable objectives, were easy to navigate, and were posted in TRAIN.”

While NWCPHP Epi modules used competencies developed by the University of Washington, the Kansas preparedness workplan had to align with the Council on Linkages Core Competencies for Public Health Professionals. Nickels contacted NWCPHP and asked the instructional design staff to assign the appropriate core competencies to each module.

The timing was perfect as NWCPHP staff had already begun aligning their distance learning offerings with several widely-used competency sets. Luann D’Ambrosio, Associate Director, said, “I was delighted when they called. We already work closely with our regional partners on projects, and I am happy to work with any other state on meeting their workforce needs. Our job is to help states where they are. We are happy to assist anyone who approaches us.”

With the core competencies assigned to the modules, Nickels and her team built a three-part training plan for LHD employees across Kansas. Module 1 included a self-assessment and asked users to complete five of the NWCPHP Epi modules. In November 2011, the state held an in-person training (Module 2) where participants practiced applying skills learned in the modules to Kansas public health law. Module 2 content was then developed into an online course for the Kansas disease surveillance workforce who were unable to attend the live training.  Module 3, "Real World Events," is under development and will be held during the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments mid-year meeting in June 2012. This module’s focus will be on the use of data from Kansas’s new Epi-TRAX disease surveillance system that will be rolled out March 1, 2012.

So far 160 learners have enrolled in one or more of the assigned NWCPHP courses. Initially, some employees were resistant, but the trainings were mandatory for those who wanted access to the state’s new surveillance system. Nickels and her team used the online course performance results to select key epidemiology concepts that were reinforced at the in-person training where she emphasized the importance of continuing education. “We all need to re-train and practice applying the information no matter how long we have been in the field,” Nickels said.

Nickels said, “We were so grateful to be able to utilize NWCPHP courses and for their expertise. We plan to add more of their courses to our training plan in the future.”

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