Public Health: Surveillance, Research and Prevention

By Kathryn Ruscitto
Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The current crisis with the emerging Coronavirus, combined with a challenging flu year, reminds us all of the important role of our Public Health officials.

Kathryn Ruscitto

Public health takes the entire health system — including patients, community providers and environmental factors — into account. The CDC and local health departments provide early warning systems. Public health has played a key role in every community across this country, from managing communicable diseases such as HIV to the outbreak of the coronavirus. Laboratories and clinicians report results to local health departments, who then coordinate aggressive tracking and communications across their communities and with the New York state health department.

“The foundation of our work is based on our mission to protect [the] health of our community residents with [a] vision of community partnership. We follow [the] principle of health equity and advocate for [the] CDC’s Health in All Policies (HiAP) [approach] because these impact social determinants of health,” says Indu Gupta, MD, Onondaga County Health Commissioner. “Both as a practicing physician and now as a leader of a mid-size public health department, I always followed these two principles in order to improve health outcomes, and continue to do so now.

“It is important to understand and acknowledge that health care and public health are interdependent, [such that] one’s focus to improve and protect [the] health of one person at a time can result in improving [the] health of the entire community by collaborative partnership with all the members of a public health system. Public health departments play a central role in this. While health systems work at the micro level, public health provides [a] bridge to the community to provide a macro-level perspective and leadership to engage all those [who] impact [the] health of a community!”

A report exploring the social determinants that factor into health status can be found at the Onondaga County Health Department website and is an excellent summary of data and actions that have been coordinated across local health systems and providers. While these are identified actionable goals, public health must deal equally with emerging, unpredictable health challenges.

Clinicians across Central New York are part of the public health system and may be the first to experience an outbreak or indication of a systemic gap in care.

Dr. Gupta began her career as a primary care internal medicine physician and appreciates the role clinicians play in the health system. She cares deeply for her patients and understands the importance of assessing the whole person and their environment to understand the best approach to treatment. Onondaga County is in a unique position to have a leader who experienced the provision of clinical care before leading an experienced team of public health professionals.

The coming year will challenge all health providers to think about how they prepare for emerging trends in health. Environmental factors are influencing the increase in asthma, diarrhea and food-borne illness, tick-borne disease, and heat-related conditions.

Key Priorities for Onondaga County

Indu Gupta, MD, Onondaga County Health Commissioner, notes that key priorities of the Onondaga County Community Health Assessment and Improvement Plan for 2019–2021 include:

  • Preventing chronic diseases
  • Promoting well-being and preventing mental and substance-use disorders
  • Promoting a healthy and safe environment
  • Promoting healthy women, infants and children
  • Preventing communicable diseases

You can reach out to Kathryn Ruscitto on LinkedIn or via email at