Board of Health

Ned E. Baker and Marie Fallon

in Public Health

ISBN: 9780199756797
Published online February 2011 | | DOI:
Board of Health

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Boards of health and other public health governing entities are legally designated governing bodies whose members are appointed or elected to provide governing, oversight and/or advisory functions of public health activities, including assessment, assurance, and policy development, for the protection and promotion of health in their communities. There are fifty-nine different names for public health governance bodies, with the most common name being board of health. Boards of health have been a part of public health democracy since the late 1700s. They are citizen trustees expected to provide leadership, guidance, and oversight of the delivery of public health services and programs in their communities. The roles of boards of health vary by state, as does the authority to carry out their responsibilities. State statutes define the legal powers and duties of local boards of health. Forty-four state codes (statutes) address local boards of health, defining jurisdiction; appointing authority; and determining terms of office, composition, roles, powers, and duties. State statutes also define board of health member composition and assignment. The majority of boards enact rules and regulations, while others may only advise or make recommendations to the governing body for public health, such as a board of county commissioners. The board of health also serves as an advocate for public health. It can provide important influence in assuring that adequate resources are available to provide needed public health services. All boards of health, regardless of the extent of their legal authority, are obligated to either enact or recommend policies that serve the interests of the public’s health. There are more than thirty-three hundred public health boards in forty-three states. Each state has unique statutes defining public health governance roles and responsibilities. More than twenty thousand volunteers serve as public health trustees. Trustees, whether elected or appointed, come with a wide range of skill sets, many with little or no education or training in governance, public health, or health in general. Responsibilities can include hiring, evaluating and, if necessary, firing the health commissioner; overseeing fiscal and performance accountability; representing the health department to the community and representing the community to the health department; and setting health policy. The board of health provides governance leadership and is ultimately responsible for ensuring public health in a community. Despite two hundred years of practice and more than twenty thousand individuals currently serving in this capacity, there is a dearth of research to inform and improve practice.

Article.  3542 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology

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