We Are Public Health Postcards
We are public health.
We conduct rapid community health assessments.
When a public health disaster strikes, a community must quickly assess where its health needs are greatest. The CDC’s Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects developed the Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response (CASPER) tool to rapidly gather community health data during public health emergencies.
Using CASPER, teams select a random sample of households from the community, then fan out to administer a health assessment survey to those households. The CASPER toolkit includes all the necessary methods, forms, training materials, analysis plans, and report writing templates. Communities supply the maps, orange vests, clipboards, flashlights, and people-power.
CASPER can provide important data outside of disasters too. Early in 2013, Dawson County Public Health in Glendive, Montana and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services partnered to conduct a CASPER in Dawson County. They wanted to hold an exercise that would enhance preparedness for an actual emergency, as well as measure the level of emergency preparedness of households in the county. Another motivation for conducting the CASPER exercise was to gather information on the perceived effects of the Bakken oil boom in Dawson County.
Staff at the state department of health also had goals for the exercise. One of these goals was to practice a CASPER in a frontier setting. Not much was known about what sampling adjustments might need to be made to effectively conduct this assessment in a sparsely populated setting. (At the time of the exercise, Dawson County had a population density of 3.8 persons per square mile.)
The exercise was conducted in October 2013. Kerry Pride, DVM, MPH, CDC Preventive Medicine Fellow at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human was involved in leading the assessment and says, “There is a lot to a CASPER, even though it is designed to be rapid. In addition to recruiting and training volunteers, a lot of front-end work needs to happen to map out where the survey will cover.”
Pride and her colleague, Randall Nett, MD, MPH, a Career Epidemiology Field Officer at CDC, determined a sampling method that would be both realistic and effective in a frontier setting. Using geographic information system technology, Pride and Nett provided detailed maps to the volunteers and oversaw just-in-time training for the volunteers. When the exercise was finished and all the data analyzed, Nett and Pride gave a final presentation to stakeholders. It took just two days from the start of the exercise to this final presentation.
Based on feedback from an exit interview process, the response of the volunteers was markedly positive. All the volunteers indicated that they saw the value of the exercise and would participate again, if the opportunity arose.
Pride says, “We learned that this technique does work in small population area. Potentially, CASPER could have huge value for health departments. If you can get a completion rate of 80 percent, you can start to do population estimates.” In the future, Pride and her team hope to work with other counties in Montana interested in using CASPER.