Now Gov. Rick Scott has added Florida's 67 county health departments to the list of government services that are being ranked and rated.
A spokeswoman told Tampa Bay Times reporter Tia Mitchell that the exercise is "intended to assess current performance, drive improvement, and facilitate the sharing of best practices.''
But a Pinellas County health official told Mitchell that the scoring system wasn't explained to them, which seems to me like the kind of thing one might do to "facilitate sharing.''
So I'm not sure what to make of all this yet, but in the meantime, there are some other public health numbers you may find more illuminating:
• 30 years: How much average life expectancy in the United States has gone up since 1900
• 25+ years: How many of those years are due to public health initiatives
• Less than 5 percent: How much of our national health budget goes to public health. (Some experts say it's closer to 3 percent.)
Fact is, a lot of public health just isn't very glamorous. Who wants to talk about wearing your seat belt and getting your cholesterol checked when there's some fabulous breakthrough wonder drug or awesome laser photon thingie to dazzle the national imagination (and empty the national wallet)?
Since we're all about rankings today, here's the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century, the ones that get credit for those 25+ extra years of life:
• Motor vehicle safety
• Workplace safety
• Control of infectious diseases (Fun fact: Florida's State Board of Health was created in 1889, when yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, smallpox, and cholera were major issues.)
• Declines in deaths from heart disease and stroke
• Safer and healthier foods
• Healthier mothers and babies
• Family planning
• Fluoridation of drinking water (unless you live in certain parts of Pinellas, of course)
• Recognition of tobacco as a health hazard
Maybe not a glamorous list, but an extremely effective one if your goal is to prevent deaths and serious (read: costly) diseases. In fact, earlier this year, experts from the prestigious Institute of Medicine declared that the best way to slow down the shocking cost of medical care may be to spend more — on public health.
That's because the nation's state and local public health agencies have been shortchanged for years.
Last year, 57 percent of all the nation's local health departments reduced or eliminated programs, with services for mothers and children among the hardest hit, according to an annual survey by the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
In Florida, 93 percent of health departments reported making cuts.
That's the highest rate of cuts since the recession started. Emergency preparedness, immunizations, chronic disease screening, home health care and mental health services also have taken serious hits.
So is it helpful to rank Florida's public health departments against each other, especially in these hard times? If it draws attention and dollars to support their important work, maybe. We'll see how this develops.