NEHA March 2024 Journal of Environmental Health


Open Access


Measuring the Effectiveness of Environmental Health Practice: An Exploratory Analysis

Michele Morrone, MS, PhD, REHS/RS Ohio University

mental public health. Are people unaware of the importance of environmental health pro- fessionals in their daily lives? What role have we played in the declining workforce? How do we construct compelling messages about environmental health careers? One root cause is connected to a lack of public understanding and awareness about the environmental health practice (Gerd- ing, Hall, & Ortiz Gumina, 2020). In one study, only 12% of people in the U.S. said they know a lot about what environmental health specialists do (Funk et al., 2019). The challenges in documenting our impact on improving public health are one likely contributor to the lack of awareness (Gerd- ing, Brooks, et al., 2020). The need to iden- tify e’ective metrics led to a call to create a National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network more than 20 years ago (Centers for Disease Control and Preven- tion, 2022). Even with the Tracking Net- work and some excellent indicators, we are still struggling to measure the impact and successes of environmental health. About the same time that the Tracking Network was emerging, the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional O™ce for Europe published Environmental Health Ser- vices in Europe 5: Guidelines for Evaluation of Environmental Health Services (Drew et al., 2000). These guidelines o’er advice on eval- uation, but caution that there are numerous challenges and barriers to evaluating envi- ronmental health services. In the guidelines, Drew et al. (2000) state: Many environmental health services strive to produce non-events; in other words, the purpose of many environ- mental health services is to prevent an adverse e’ect from occurring. Thus, if

Abstract For many years, concerns have been raised about the future of the environmental health workforce both in terms of quantity and quality. One response to these concerns has been a discussion about raising awareness of the importance of the profession. Addressing these concerns is challenging because when environmental health is functional, disease is prevented—in other words, eective environmental health produces “non- events.” Therefore, it is not easy to document that an environmental health program has successfully stopped people from getting sick or injured, which means that we, as a profession, need to have a serious discussion about how to provide evidence that our work is a crucial component of public health. This study proposes some potential indicators of environmental health practice and explores how they relate to health conditions across the U.S. Simple correlation analysis was used to compare data from states in two major groups and five categories. The findings show some promise in identifying indicators of our success; however, this study also highlights struggles in documenting the work we do. Additional conversations are needed about how to document and disseminate the achievements of environmental health practice because we might be able to use these achievements to improve the environmental health workforce. Keywords: environmental health practice, evaluation, indicators, workforce, eectiveness

Introduction There are concerns about the current and future state of the environmental health work- force. These concerns result from multiple factors, including an aging workforce and declining enrollment in environmental health academic programs. Ultimately, these factors are leading to a situation in which the work- force is becoming less prepared at a time when “now more than ever, environmental public health matters” (Brooks & Ryan, 2021).

When addressing workforce issues, we often focus on recruiting and retaining stu- dents and qualified professionals. Recruit- ment and retention are very important, but this endeavor has been a priority of academic and other environmental health organizations for years, yet workforce numbers continue to decline. There are likely root causes that these strategies alone do not address, raising ques- tions about why people—especially young people—are not choosing careers in environ-


Volume 86 • Number 7

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