22762 Thinking Outside the Org Chart: Working Across Program Lines to Improve H1N1 Communications

Thursday, April 22, 2010: 9:20 AM
Regency Ballroom VI
Kim Harrison Eowan, MPH, CHES , Deputy Director, Health Education Administration/Wellness Mgr, County of Los Angeles

Background: In April 2009, the threat of pandemic H1N1 influenza caused the Los Angeles County (LAC) Department of Public Health (DPH) to activate its Incident Command Structure (ICS).  DPH identified the need to strengthen organizational capacity to communicate with media, clinicians, community based organizations, DPH employees, and LAC residents.  In July 2009, DPH convened multidisciplinary workgroups to plan and implement a mass vaccination campaign.  The group tasked with developing the communications strategy was integrated into ICS as the Communications Branch (COMM) in October 2009.  COMM’s activities necessitated close collaboration between DPH’s Health Education Administration (HEA) and Immunization Program (LACIP).  HEA and LACIP staff used their specialized skills (e.g application of health education principles) and programmatic capacities (e.g. relationships with community partners) to address COMM’s three responsibilities: message development and dissemination; inquiry management; and clinical messaging.  

Setting: Los Angeles County

Population: 10 million LAC residents, emphasizing vaccination priority groups.

Project Description: HEA and LACIP convened daily to determine messaging strategies; coordinate clinical review of content; engage community stakeholders for development and dissemination; and respond to stakeholder inquiries. Their combined skills and programmatic capacities created a synergy that spurred the creation of print materials, web-based content, public service announcements, and training materials in 12 threshold languages.

Results/Lessons Learned: Substantive collaboration across programs resulted in 1) A collection of comprehensive, high quality, and consistent messaging that assured the success of DPH’s historic vaccination campaign, and 2) Improved organizational willingness and capacity to communicate effectively with internal and external stakeholders. Lessons learned included 1) Basic health education principles of cultural/linguistic competency, risk communication, and plain language must always be at the forefront of message development, and 2) Effective new infrastructure can be created in large bureaucratic systems by mobilizing in nontraditional ways.