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1st-Of-Its-Kind Report Establishes Public Health Benchmarks For Oregon

A first-of-its-kind report out of the Oregon Health Authority shows gonorrhea infections are higher than they should be and that the public water system needs to improve.

The findings are important, but the report’s main aim is to establish a baseline by which future health improvements can be measured.

The idea comes from Oregon’s system of coordinated care organizations. For the last five years, those CCOs have published annual health care metrics that include everything from immunization rates to tobacco use.

As a result, they’ve been able to compare their progress against one another. The effect has been that health outcomes across the CCOs have improved and costs have gone down.

Now, the Legislature wants Oregon’s public health system to adopt a similar approach.

“Tracking metrics for the same health issues across CCOs and in public health settings presents a real opportunity,” said Cara Biddlecom, director of policy and partnerships at the Oregon Public Health Division. “There are very few areas of the country that are being clear about what the public health system is delivering."

In an effort to get a better understanding of disparities in Oregon's public health landscape, the new benchmarks include all kinds of factors: from race to contraceptive use, dental visits, opioid deaths, smoking and transportation.

The Oregon Health Authority doesn’t want the new benchmark to be used as a report card. But comparisons are hard to avoid when the shows such precise data.

For example, 89 percent of water systems in the state meet public health standards. OHA has set a goal of 92 percent. The goal could be higher, but only if the Legislature provides money, according to Biddlecom.

The new report also shows gonorrhea infections are considerably higher than they should be.

To fight gonorrhea and other communicable diseases, the Oregon Health Authority plans to establish a regional system.

“The public health division recently funded eight regions of the state that have selected communicable diseases that are of primary importance in their area,” Biddlecom said. “So, we have several that are working on sexually transmitted diseases, including gonorrhea as well as viral hepatitis and increasing immunization rates among vulnerable populations.”

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature set aside $5 million to modernize the public health system.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Kristian Foden-Vencil is a reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He specializes in health care, business, politics, law and public safety.