New Network Provides Expertise in Public Health Law

New Network Provides Expertise in Public Health Law

In public health initiatives ranging from airbag requirements for cars to smoke-free regulations in restaurants and bars, law has become an increasingly powerful tool for creating healthier, safer communities. As a result, those involved with public health—from local, state, federal, and tribal officials and their legal counsel to public health practitioners, policymakers, and advocates—have an increasing need for legal expertise to help them develop, implement, and enforce laws that help solve public health problems.

That expertise is now available nationwide through the Network for Public Health Law, founded in 2010 with initial funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The University of Michigan School of Public Health is among five regional centers in the network, which provides legal technical assistance to professionals grappling with complex public health challenges that may warrant legal and policy solutions. The "Mid-States Regional Center" housed at U-M SPH delivers services to nine states across the Midwest. Since its inception, the center has answered over 90 requests for technical assistance, says its director, Denise Chrysler. Attorneys at the mid-states center are also highly active in delivering presentations and lectures at state and local meetings in the region.

The network currently connects with over 2,600 members who are public health practitioners, attorneys, government officials, researchers, professors, and students. Anyone working in the fields of public health or law can contact the network for guidance on how best to apply the law to their particular public health concern. In addition to handling hundreds of requests for legal technical assistance from around the country, the network has also produced webinars, presentations, academic lectures, and numerous products addressing emerging public health issues.

"Those working in the field of public health are confronted daily with a wide range of issues—from health reform to emergency preparedness —that intersect with the law," says Dan Stier, JD, director of the network's National Coordinating Center. "The law is an important tool to protect public health. Our goal is to build a robust network of experts who can share their knowledge with others interested in using the law as a powerful tool to improve public health." —Terri Mellow