Creating a Premier One Health Conference

State: TX Type: Promising Practice Year: 2019

The HCPH jurisdiction includes approximately 2.5 million people living in unincorporated areas and over 30 other municipalities in Harris County. The large number of people residing in the Harris County unincorporated area is a unique phenomenon unparalleled elsewhere in the United States. Given the incredible geographic diversity of Harris County, in turn, HCPH offers its services in many instances to the entirety of Harris County including within the city of Houston thus reaching the entirety of the 4.7 million people who reside within Harris County.

To serve effectively residents across Harris County's 1,778 square miles, HCPH operates as the community's doctor” to diagnose, treat, and monitor the overall community's health.  It works through and mobilizes an extensive array of partners that comprise the local health system within Harris County. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) described public health as what we as a society do collectively to assure the conditions in which people can be healthy” and is made up of all public, private, and other entities that contribute to the delivery of health-related services within the community.

Recent studies show the collaboration of human and animal health practitioners has advanced science and improved the overall health of communities.  Emerging diseases such as avian influenza, Ebola and Zika have highlighted the gaps present between the veterinary and medical professions and the need for more collaborative efforts.  Disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Harvey stressed the importance of the human-animal bond aspect during disaster preparedness and recovery.  Harris County Veterinary Public Health (HCVPH), a division of the Harris County Public Health, has created an opportunity to address this issue in order to build a healthier, more resilient community in the Houston, Texas area.

In 2008, HCVPH surveyed local veterinarians and veterinary technicians.  Survey results depicted gaps in awareness and education within the veterinary community on zoonotic and infectious diseases.  In order to address this issue, HCVPH organized and executed the 1st Annual Zoonotic Disease Conference specifically aimed at veterinarians, licensed veterinary technicians and clinic staff.   The 1st Annual Zoonotic Disease Conference held March 28, 2009 offered 6 continuing education (CE) hours to 88 attendees covering critical and relevant public health and zoonotic disease information.  The annual conferences covered a variety of zoonotic disease topics including rabies, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Zika, MRSA and leptospirosis.  Yearly attendee surveys showed a dramatic increase in zoonotic disease understanding, and the popularity of the conference increased via word-of-mouth.  Not only did the conference grow in size, but it also reached new areas of interest in the community: human health professionals wanted to attend.  After several years of collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine-National School of Tropical Medicine in the renowned Houston medical center, the 10th annual conference in 2017 celebrated wonderful, exciting changes. 

The 10th annual conference held September 30 October 1, 2017 changed its name to the One Health Conference, included over 325 attendees from a variety of health professions, and offered CE credits to physicians and nurses for the first time.  It included zoonotic disease topics such as Toxoplasmosis from a veterinarian and physician's perspective, but also highlighted topics such as One Health, the human-animal bond, antibiotic resistance and environmental health.  It became the first One Health conference in the Houston area bringing together animal and human health professionals under one roof to promote collaborations.  Veterinarians, physicians, nurses, researchers, public health professionals and students networked, discussed similarities and differences in human and animal medicine, and received over a dozen hours of CE over two days of lectures, panel sessions and presentations.

Collaborations between human and animal health professionals can make a significant impact in the Houston community and result in a healthier human and animal population.  Through this annual conference, HCPH has been able to develop a comprehensive network of One Health stakeholders, educate the veterinary and medical community and establish HCPH as the local resource for zoonotic disease issues. This is a summary of one health department's journey to promote the One Health Concept and put it into practice.

The HCPH One Health Conference is innovative because it is a premier One Health Conference that is put on by HCPH and organized entirely by LHD staff. This stems from our commitment to One Health principles throughout the Department.

The One Health Conference brings together animal and human healthcare professionals under one roof to discuss critical and relevant zoonotic disease/One Health topics with experts in the field. We are committed to creating healthy, resilient communities by promoting and sustaining the health and well-being of humans, animals, and the environment by: Aligning joint education and communication efforts; creating and enhancing multidisciplinary community partnerships; and promoting One Health principles.

The impact of the One Health conference is that it increases community awareness of the One Health concept and raises awareness of Harris County Public Health's capabilities and services. In addition, its core focus is to educate and communicate critical and relevant one health and zoonotic disease information, which impacts public health and safety, animal health and emergency/disaster preparedness.

Our goal at Harris County Public Health is to have the One Health Conference be the premier One Health initiative in Texas and the nation. To achieve this, HCPH must develop collaborative relationships among animal, human, and public health practitioners in order to create a community of healthy people, animals, and places.

The conference offers over a dozen hours of continuing education to physicians, veterinarians, and veterinary technicians, and to nurses. The conference has over 2 dozen speakers over the 2 days it is held.

The One Health Conference is a testament to collaboration on two fronts: internal cooperation and external partnership. While the origins of the One Health Conference can be traced back to the Veterinary Public Health division, it eventually became apparent that a comprehensive approach was necessary to grow the scope beyond zoonotic diseases. As such, a One Health internal workgroup was created to oversee the implementation of the One Health Conference activities. This workgroup included staff from human health (epidemiologists, physicians), animal health (veterinarians, vet techs), and environmental health (planners, sanitarians, entomologists). In addition, communications staff and policy staff were incorporated into the workgroup. This ensured that the topics, perspectives, objectives, and themes of the One Health were robust to all aspects of a One Health philosophy.

In addition, we strengthened our partnership with key external agencies. We work closely with Baylor College of Medicine- National School of Tropical Medicine (BCM) and Texas Children's Hospital (TCH). Both BCM and TCH are strong advocates of a One Health perspective. Partnerships with these institutions has also helped enhance our outreach into the medical community to engage more nurses and physicians on the importance of  One Health approach in human health.

Partnership is also extended into the private sector. By offering sponsorship opportunities, HCPH is able to incorporate for- and non-profit agencies into the Conference. They not only engage attendees on the value of their products or services, but they see that One Health concepts are important to their customers. Because vendors have significant, personal relationships with the practitioners of health, they are also potential ambassadors and educators of One Health principles and approaches. 

Lastly, in 2018 we developed a unique partnership with a key leader in Houston: we extended an invitation to local hero Jim Mattress Mack” McIngvale. Mattress Mack is a local entrepreneur with deep ties to the area and the public. He was able to share his experience during Hurricane Harvey with attendees and, because he saw the importance and value of HCPH's work, agreed to appear in various PR films in production.

Evaluation can be measured by 2 main metrics: attendee numbers and attendee experiences. From the onset, we have had tremendously positive feedback from attendee experiences. In our 2009 After Action Report we tallied up 91 attendees all of whom were animal health professionals. In 2018, we tallied up 331 attendees, with 42% involved in animal health, 20% in human clinical care, and 34% in public health.

Throughout the annual after action reports attendees report positive experiences. In the most recent report indicated that over 85% of attendees rated our venue as Very Good” or Excellent”; the topics chosen were, according to over 85% Very Good” or Excellent.” And over 95% of attendees who completed the survey said they would recommend this conference to a friend or colleague.” This pattern of success and quality has held consistent throughout the years.  

Hosting a premier One Health Conference is, admittedly, costly. However, by engaging with partners in the for- and non-profit sectors these costs can be partially defrayed. Our 2009 conference was held in an auditorium at building owned by Lone College for the low cost of $90. The majority of the costs were for print materials, food, and ‘swag'. Nearly 50% of these costs were paid for with funding from a sponsor. As attendance and quality of the conference grew, so too did the costs. By 2018, the cost of the conference approach 90k. The majority of these costs were for food, the venue (a large hotel in downtown Houston), A/V setup, and an after-hours reception. As attendance has grown, so too has sponsorship. We were able to secure approximately 15k in sponsorship and in-kind support from our partners.

In 2019 and beyond we are considering charging a fee to attend the conference to help support the growing costs. While the goal is not to make the conference revenue positive (our goal is to keep attendance cost low to ensure as many people as possible are able to attend and learn), having a minimal fee will help lower the proportion of people who sign up to attend but do not show up. 

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