November 1, 2019
Director of NWCPHP Betty Bekemeier and NWRPCA CEO Bruce Gray

Director of NWCPHP Betty Bekemeier and NWRPCA CEO Bruce Gray

The Northwest Center for Public Health Practice (NWCPHP) and the Northwest Regional Primary Care Association (NWRPCA) are collaborating to bring together public health and primary care professionals to train alongside each other in a nine-month institute.

NWCPHP and NWRPCA serve Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, and are deeply committed to promoting population health improvement and advancing health equity in the Northwest.

The Northwest Public Health–Primary Care Leadership Institute includes a curriculum that brings together emerging leaders from public health and primary care for collaborative population health improvement. Together, they will develop new ways of approaching complex health problems in their communities by transforming health systems and leveraging the strengths of both sectors to promote equity and create healthier communities.

Director of NWCPHP Betty Bekemeier and NWRPCA CEO Bruce Gray talk with us more about the Institute and why cross-sector training is so vital for our nation’s health system.

Q. What makes this Leadership Institute different from other training and professional development opportunities?

Betty: As far as we are aware, there is no such training that brings public health and primary care leaders together. Although cross-sector training and transforming health systems across multiple fields is no easy task, we aim to show that it is possible to bridge our sectors and that doing so can have positive impacts on the communities whose lives rely on our combined efforts.

Bruce: We’re excited that this new program will directly address what we see as a major gap in health care administrative leadership development nationwide. The timing really is right for this. We need leadership training models that reflect the dramatic transformation taking place in the health care industry and public health, including the move to value-based care and related payment models.

Q. Why is it so important to bring together professionals from public health and primary care?

Betty: Some of our most seemingly intractable public health problems are in prevention and addressing chronic disease. Yet most chronic diseases, and the extent of their consequences, are preventable. With primary care systems on the exhausting front lines of seeing people suffering, they have little hope of effectively addressing these issues “upstream” for their patients. But together we can better understand how underserved community members are being affected and see what systems need to change so we can create healthier options and improve access to services for people to be and stay healthier.

Bruce: We have the opportunity to help professionals from both public health and primary care settings learn together how best to re-envision our prevention and healthcare delivery models. Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that opportunity? Our Northwest communities deserve as much. Imagine how much our region could benefit from such leaders truly engaging in collective action around existing health disparities with the practical skills and knowledge long needed to bridge our siloed health sectors.

Q. Is there an interest from public health and primary care professionals to have this kind of collaboration? What could population health improvements look like for professionals?

Betty: Oh yes! In 2017, I presented to a standing-room only crowd on some early research about this topic. It highlighted the need for public health and primary care leaders to work closer together, along with obstacles that needed to be overcome so we can better understand one another and effectively work together. I was amazed at how much interest there was and how much this presentation resonated with public health professionals.

Bruce: Absolutely. Our colleagues in the Northwest community health world have repeatedly shown their interest — passion even — in leading the national movement toward effective population health. Complex health challenges require true systems thinking and creative, adaptive leadership. All of us working toward health improvement recognize that none of our organizations can fully address these social and environmental issues by ourselves. Together, we can build learning networks that encourage collaboration across industries by cross-training a population health workforce made up of public health and primary care professionals.

Q. What could a system focused on population health improvement look like to patients, clients, and communities? Why does it matter to the communities we serve?

Betty: Leaders of today are addressing really complex problems and cannot do it alone or in their own organizational silos. Our institute will use principles of adaptive leadership and change management, systems thinking, and health system integration in the context of population health improvement so emerging leaders from across public health and primary care can more effectively work together.

Bruce: Public health and primary care professionals are natural partners when it comes to addressing the unmet social needs and community-wide social determinants of health that impact the health of all. Where we can make the greatest impact together is in shifting complex, relatively siloed systems towards more coordinated “upstream” interventions. And that’s how this effort could matter most to the communities we serve and the health, wellness, and well-being of all in those communities.

Visit the Northwest Public Health–Primary Care Leadership Institute to learn more.