November 17, 2023 

By Amma Agyemang-Duah and Rachel Morrow, Gillings Communication Fellows

In public health, practice is what happens after research results are published. Practitioners translate research into local contexts to inform real-world interventions that help people improve their health and quality of life. 

Practice is a top priority for the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and our North Carolina Institute of Public Health (NCIPH) works in deep partnership with health departments across the state to improve local public health practice. 

A recent enhancement to their vital work is being funded by contracts through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, which allots funds meant to speed the nation’s recovery from COVID-19. The pandemic exposed weak points throughout the United States health care system and caused skyrocketing levels of burnout among health care workers. 

NCIPH is striving to make tangible improvements on these issues at the state level. 

Statewide Workforce Development 

One major body of work for NCIPH is a $3 million contract in partnership with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Service’s Division of Public Health (DPH), which leads the N.C. ARPA Public Health Workforce Development Initiative.  

The efforts supervised by NCIPH are designed to support the broader strategic workforce initiatives of the Division of Public Health. By facilitating skills-building courses on public health messaging, racial equity, crisis communications, management techniques and more, NCIPH experts expand the capacity of state employees to respond to a variety of public health challenges. 

NCIPH also serves as a resource for ARPA-funded Regional Workforce leaders across North Carolina, facilitating quarterly meetings and providing expert consulting in addition to conducting a Foundational Capabilities Gap Analysis that will help each region identify core infrastructure needs. 

Dr. Stephen N. Orton

Dr. Stephen Orton

Examples of longer-term projects under the ARPA contract include establishing an academic health department model with DPH; smoothing the way for N.C. institutes of higher education to collaborate with government health agencies on pipeline efforts to build the state’s governmental public health workforce; and developing strategies to measure the impact of investments into building foundational capabilities across the state’s public health system. 

“I’m passionate about workforce development,” says Stephen Orton, PhD, a senior fellow in public health leadership at NCIPH. “I believe it lays the groundwork for long-lasting, systemic change and reminds people how meaningful their work is.”

Region 7 Leadership Training 

The workforce development initiative isn’t the only way NCIPH advances health in North Carolina. They also support a contract specific to Region 7 of the N.C. Association of Local Health Directors, which includes the counties of Franklin, Granville, Johnston, Nash, Vance, Wake, Warren and Wilson. 

Lisa Macon Harrison

Lisa Macon Harrison

Region 7 is led by Lisa Macon Harrison, MPH, a Gillings school alum who has served as director of Granville Vance Public Health (GVPH) since 2012. GVPH serves as the distributor of ARPA funds on behalf of the entire region. 

In partnership with Macon Harrison and the other Region 7 local health department (LHD) directors, NCIPH staff are developing long-term communities of practice that reflect major scopes of work across the counties — including nursing and opioid response — in addition to administrative focus areas like employee management.  

According to Orton, these communities of practice “get people in one room on a regular basis and provide a structure, enabling experts to connect and problem solve around the public health issues that are most relevant to their communities.” 

Within these groups, LHD staff also receive bespoke training matched to their unique needs.  

“Our main focus for this project is to enhance the skill sets of local health department employees,” says Orton. “By building capacity across eight counties, the lessons will ripple out into statewide positive impact.” 

An intensive six-day workshop planned for January and February 2024 will enhance the connections among local health leaders across the region, enabling them to brainstorm collaborative solutions for their communities as a new year of service begins. 

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at

Visit our communications and marketing team page.
Contact with any media inquiries or general questions.

Communications and Marketing Office
125 Rosenau Hall
CB #7400
135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400