Boards of health are a powerful part of state and local public health systems and are charged to address health promotion, disease prevention and public protection. They provide the necessary guidance and oversight of a local health department to assure the community’s health. Board roles vary across the country. In Indiana, boards set policies for their local health departments, hire and fire the health officer, review operational data and challenge any organizational activity when necessary. Boards also have financial oversight of the local health department.
The primary responsibility of board members is to study and to learn about the obligations of the board, the local health department’s activities, the community’s health problems and the need for planning solutions that address these concerns.
Board members fulfill these expectations by:
- Being prepared for meetings by reading all pertinent material prior to the meeting, being informed about issues in order to discuss them responsibly and researching additional information as needed.
- Attending and actively participating in all board of health meetings.
- Becoming familiar with and understanding the meeting process and following the rules of order.
- Ensuring that time at board of health meetings is set aside for updates on public health problems and what the LHD is doing, or needs to do, in response to existing challenges.
- Involving others in LHD functions, special events and activities to promote and support programs and services.
- Advocating for public health by communicating regularly with community leaders and elected officials about perceived needs and possible resources.
- Serving as a liaison between the community and the LHD and between the health agency and the community.
- Working cooperatively with the health officer or health commissioner.
- Learning about every aspect of the LHD and the local public health system, including identifying possible partners.
- Being patient. Changing health status, enforcing procedures and solving public health problems takes time.
- Identifying priorities to ensure that the appropriate resources are available to meet the LHD’s long-term goals and objectives.
- Making decisions that must be made, even in the midst of adverse public reactions and/or opinions of the governmental body responsible for the appointment or election of board members.
- Knowing the difference between private problems and those that actually impact the public’s health.
- Taking responsibility when asked and following through on commitments.
- Being a visionary by planning where the board and the LHD should be in two to three years and actively participating in identifying and training new board members who support this vision.