Improving Performance Management in Licking County, Ohio’s Environmental Health Operations

May 06, 2024 | Colton Anderson

laptop-with-charts-conference-table-collaboration.jpgPerformance management is crucial for ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of a health department's operations. In environmental health, where regulations, standards, and public health concerns are paramount, effective performance management ensures that tasks such as monitoring air and water quality, inspecting facilities for compliance, and responding to environmental emergencies are carried out with precision and timeliness. Additionally, it enables a health department to identify areas for improvement, allocate resources efficiently, and adapt to changing environmental conditions or regulatory requirements.

The Licking County, Ohio Environmental Health Department is not only implementing performance management practices but also aligning them with the Public Health Reaccreditation Standards and Measures, while diligently tracking data to facilitate continuous improvement, which they shared during a webinar on Performance Management in Environmental Health to build capacity for Public Health Infrastructure Grant recipients.

Streamlining Performance Tracking

Enhancing performance tracking can range from utilizing a well-structured Excel spreadsheet with clear line graphs to employing sophisticated performance management software. By developing and consistently tracking measures tailored to the needs of the environmental health department, the process becomes not only clear but also sustainable, fostering informed decision-making.

Licking County's Environmental Health Department has implemented a thorough approach to organizing its tracking system, segmenting it by program area and tailoring measures to suit the unique needs and objectives of each domain. Notable success has been achieved by seamlessly integrating performance measures into the county's overarching performance management system, a feat accomplished after thorough quality improvement endeavors within its plumbing program and fiscal services operations. Among these initiatives, a notable project was launched to tackle issues surrounding expiring plumbing permits and the absence of a dependable tracking mechanism for expiration dates. Through strategic enhancements to permit storage and tracking procedures, the county now boasts the ability to accurately assess the monthly expiration rate of plumbing permits. Similarly, another project was initiated to curb excessive refund issuances within the department. By delving into the root causes of refund requests, this endeavor facilitated the establishment of a performance measure aimed at monitoring monthly refund amounts, thus ensuring adherence to the annual refund budget allocation.

Communicating Performance Measures

Effectively communicating performance measures is essential for transparency, accountability, and alignment with organizational goals. Clearly and regularly communicating performance data allows stakeholders to understand the department's progress, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate successes.

One crucial aspect of communicating performance measures is using accessible and understandable formats. The department utilizes various communication channels (e.g., staff meetings, departmental newsletters, intranet portals), to disseminate performance data effectively. Visual aids, including charts, graphs, and dashboards present complex information in a digestible format, facilitating staff comprehension and engagement.

Equitable Performance Management Strategies

In pursuing equity within performance management, the Licking County Environmental Health Department has established transparent links between employees' goals and organizational priorities, supporting flexibility to accommodate diverse needs.

Recognizing the pivotal role of managers, the department invests in enhancing their coaching skills to ensure fair decision-making in day-to-day operations. Additionally, the department implements a nuanced approach to performance evaluation, effectively rewarding outstanding performance in certain roles while concurrently addressing and improving performance in others.

As part of its commitment to public health and equity, the department also operates an Enhanced Enforcement Program, offering additional food safety inspections to facilities demonstrating non-compliance with Ohio's Food Safety Code. Monthly inspections provide ongoing support for these facilities in implementing proper food safety procedures, supplemented by free on-site training sessions to empower food operators with essential knowledge and skills. Through these concerted efforts, the department strives to foster equity in environmental health practices within the community.

Lessons Learned and Future Directions

Drawing from Licking County’s experience, it’s critical to properly pace integrating performance management into departmental operations. Starting small with a few measures and monitoring them regularly to establish small wins at the onset is key to sustainable implementation over time. For example, documenting data sources or reports used to update their dashboards made keeping performance measures updated regularly much smoother when for new staff.

Licking County believes its local health department should strive to run all its programs optimally. They have a large number of performance measures that are tied to operations to ensure optimal delivery of programming. Should programmatic tasks be executed to a high standard but fail to yield improvements in health or equity outcomes, it serves as a catalyst for discussions surrounding potential adjustments to the program delivery model. As Licking County continues to refine their approach, they are actively seeking to enhance their performance management system by aligning measures more closely with health outcomes, emphasizing impact and equity.

Ultimately, as indicated by Licking County's Assistant Health Commissioner, Greg Chumney, “performance management looks different for everyone.” Through dedication, innovation, and collaboration, performance management will continue to be a cornerstone in advancing environmental health and public well-being.

Thank you to Licking County Health Commissioner Greg Chumney for his contributions to this product and to the field of public health.