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Commissioner Fitzgerald Convenes IS Meeting for Public Health

September 4, 2013

Originally published Sep 26, 2011

Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., summoned nearly 80 public health collaborators to discuss strategies to improve the state’s information system at the Georgia DPH: Information Services Strategy and Alignment Design Forum. The unprecedented meeting began the process of identifying an information system that will serve the needs of the state, districts and counties. The 3-day Design Forum was purposed to help build the infrastructure to get public health’s data from the county offices into a central repository or data warehouse.

“Fix our money, fix our message, and fix our IT system,” resonated in Commissioner Fitzgerald’s message on day one of the forum. As the Department moves into almost 90 days as a stand-alone agency, they began discussing and envisioning one centralized system to prepare public health for the future. The Commissioner did not come with a large agenda but asked staff to create a work plan that would be feasible to implement and work for years to come.

North Highland facilitated the 3-day Design Forum alongside its consulting partner, The Difference. The meeting was designed to enable the team to create and align around a new vision and set of strategic priorities for the future state of Information Services within the Department of Public Health. Working on cross-geography teams with a focus on Data Standards, Data Collection, Data Storage, and Data Reporting, the team collaboratively built a new model for Information Services and developed the appropriate governance structure, change management plan, and communications framework for sustaining the implementation of the model.

Attendees say the meeting set a new direction for information services. Valerie Attell’s IT responsibilities cover the gamut in public health as IT Manager for District 3-3 in Clayton County, IT Chairperson for Georgia Public Health Association, and IT Leadership Team Chairperson. She got the impression that public health had opened more lines of communication between all parties involved. “We’re working toward one single goal...a healthier Georgia,” concluded Attell.

“Notice we’re not talking about “IT” or Information Technology; instead, we’re talking about information services,” said Carol Hadley, Strategic Planning Development, Program Manager. “It’s important to start with the information needs of public health and match the technology (IT) to serve those needs. That’s the alignment and design.”

Chief Information Officer Perry Sims told PHWEEK it was clear that “putting the cart before the horse” would not work in the new Department. Thus, no system can be designed until the needs are fully understood across the board.

Tim Callahan, Director, Evaluation & Support Program, Environmental Health, a member of the communications action team seeks to widen the conversation. “We agreed that the conversations must include public health staff across the state and across discipline-program, budget, clinical, IT, administrative, state and local,” said Callahan. “This will ensure that we create the right information system to sustain us for years to come.”

Difficult issues were tackled recalls District Health Director Jack Kennedy, M.D., MBA and there was a predominant attitude valuing open communication and collaboration. “We achieved consensus on several critical success factors. While we still have far to go, we developed an excellent framework of priorities and action steps for moving us forward," Dr. Kennedy said.

Sims agrees that the forum was a great success because all major stakeholders participated across the state in all 18 public health districts. Now, the next order of business is extensive planning to implement the objectives and the mission statements developed at the forum. It‘s fair to say that everyone received "marching orders" to create a state-of-the-art information system for all of public health.

Commissioner Fitzgerald has charged the action teams to sustain that momentum and enthusiasm with weekly cadence meetings which she named “Thursday’s Child” calls. This name is derived from the poem, “Thursday’s Child has far to go.”

“We’re in this together and we’ll succeed for all of public health and Georgia,” concluded Hadely.