West Virginia is faced with a lengthy list of factors that have the potential to negatively impact environmental health in our State’s communities. The state is relatively poor, mostly rural, and is faced with infrastructure challenges. In addition, there is a lack of data analysis capacity within the Office of Environmental Health Services (OEHS) that effects the ability to model and evaluate intervention strategies for environmental health hazards. Potential advancements to environmental health have been identified through the ability to initiate improvements to environmental hazards, but the core capacity to model those hazards and evaluate the effectiveness of intervention strategies remains a barrier.
At present, data is currently being collected by all three divisions of OEHS, but the ability to apply this data to environmental health interventions is limited. It is impossible to know the degree or level of hazards that currently exist in most programs because a baseline has not been established. At this time, each program of the OEHS manages data individually without uniform practices or guidance. The data currently collected by OEHS could be more fully utilized to develop environmental health hazard interventions through sound data management and analysis practices. This project will build capacity to better identify, characterize, mitigate environmental health hazards, evaluate the effectiveness of interventions, and to develop evidence-based strategies in the future.
OEHS proposes to develop data and informatics capacity through the development of standardized procedures in data management, implementation of a data analysis platform, identification of a data capacity team, and staff training with certification in data management and analysis. Capable staff can identify current available data sets and collection methods and will determine validity of existing data thus allowing the data to be compared to established criteria and values. The evaluated data can be ranked for the degree of environmental hazard, associated risk, and resource needs in developing an improvement plan with potential interventions. An ongoing review of continued data collection will reveal whether the intervention implemented has achieved the desired result in improving EH conditions and thereby, improved health conditions for communities.
The improved data capacity will enhance collaboration and communication between OEHS and state, local, and federal partners outside of OEHS. The increased data capacity will also advance communications with the public by enhancing education of environmental hazards and conditions while enabling citizens to make informed decisions about their risk for exposure.
The outcomes measured will focus on the number of EH hazard mitigations put into place and their effectiveness. The increased data capacity will likely not show immediate improvements in environmental health or, at least, not significantly but is expected to build over time consistent with improving conditions. To ensure the continued achievement of the long-term goals and ensure that the human impact of WV EH programs is realized, OEHS programs will have to consistently assess the effectiveness, efficiency, and impact of our interventions through the continued use of informatics.