In 1872, soon after the birth of modern public health in the United States, the American Public Health Association was founded. Over the years numerous Ohio public health workers were members of this national organization. However, it was not until 1925 that an Ohio organization of public health professionals came into being.

Homer Calver, General Secretary and Managing Editor of the American Public Health Association, encouraged Ohio delegates to organize a state and regional section.  Mr. Calver came to Ohio to help organize an Ohio Section, and on November 19, 1925, at the Fifth Annual Conference of Health Commissioners, our organization was born. The first professional organization of Ohio public health workers was affiliated with the American Public Health Association and was named the “Ohio Society of Sanitarians”. The term “sanitarian” which is derived from the Latin word “sanitas” meaning health, was still used during this period to designate all public health workers.

The stated objective and motto of the newly founded society was “The Promotion of Public Health in Ohio.”  The founding membership totaled one hundred and sixty. Eighty-­eight were Ohio health commissioners, eighteen were public health nurses, sixteen were sanitary engineers and thirty-eight were classified as “other” — with dues of $ 2.00. Members of the Executive Committee had their own motto – “Onward and Upwards!!!”

The logical name for the newly created public health organization would have been “The Ohio Public Health Associations” – however from 1914 to 1948, that was the name of the Tuberculosis Society of Ohio. In 1931, at the annual meeting, there was dissatisfaction regarding our name, and one suggestion was “Society of Ohio Sanitarians” – the initials S.O.S. would stand for “Seal of Safety” and could be placed on approved water supplies, restaurants and sewage installations — maybe even a sticker on children after they had received their immunizations. Instead, the name was changed to “The Ohio Federation of Public Health Officials” until 1949. At this time, the Tuberculosis Society of Ohio changed its official name to “The Ohio Tuberculosis and Health Association” — and the name “The Ohio Public Health Association” was released — and it became ours officially in 1950 and the association was incorporated in 1951.

In the ensuing years OPHA membership has ranged from 300 to 1000 representing diverse membership from across the state. As times have changed, OPHA membership has changed to address chronic disease, to social determinants of health.

In the mid 1990’s, OPHA and its sister associations, including Association of Ohio Health Commissioners, Ohio Society of Public Health Education, Ohio Environmental Health Association and the Ohio Association of Boards of Health, agreed to form the Ohio Public Health Partnership at which time the annual Public Health Combined Conference came into being. That conference is held each spring. In May 1966, OPHA became a 501c3 professional organization.

OPHA Past Presidents
Past presidents

For many years, OPHA hired a part-time secretary to assist the president and Governing Council to administer the business of the organization. In 2006, with the untimely death of the long-time secretary, the Association decided to changes its approach to management and sought a part-time Executive Director. In the spring of 2007, the first Executive Director was hired. In 2009, the decision was made to establish a second paid position, that of a program assistant to provide back-up and continuity of institutional memory. This change to having paid staff also leads the organization to establish an official office.

This also coincided with the receipt of a major American Public Health Association (APHA) grant to assist with affiliate capacity building. This receipt and timing of this grant were significant in solidifying OPHA’s existence and beginning to increase its visibility and credibility among Ohio’s public health system.

These events also resulted in Governing Council making the important advances in updating its strategic plan which hadn’t been done in years. That strategic plan is now the foundation and has remained the foundation upon which each years successive plans have been developed and implemented. During this time, OPHA made the decision to become more active in its advocacy efforts. To that end, Governing Council identified five priority areas: obesity prevention, tobacco prevention and control, injury prevention and control, access to health care and elimination of health disparities. A sixth policy priority, environmental public health was added in 2010.

Due to the changing of the social and political atmosphere, OPHA realized the growing importance of public health advocacy to which OPHA has been more involved in providing written testimony and providing information in various media outlets. The issues are varied, such as Ebola containment, gun control, vector-borne control, Medicaid expansion and support for the Affordable Care Act. In 2014, OPHA established an initiative of identifying a member in each legislative district who is responsible of developing a personal relationship with his/her legislator for grass roots advocacy.

Historically, OPHA was divided into five sections: Public Health Nursing, Academic, Health Education, Environmental and Medical Directors. In 2010 OPHA expanded its section base to include Vision Care, Vital Statistics and Chiropractic Health. The Medical Director Section was renamed as the Clinical Health Section to include medical directors, physicians, dentists and other clinical professionals.  In 2016 the OPHA formed a Student Section – affirming that the future of Public Health lies with those who are beginning their careers in the field.

In more recent years OPHA has been more involved in public health accreditation, emergency preparedness, and the concept of health and equity in all policies. Due to the impact of health disparities in the health status of Ohioans, OPHA’s governing council voted to form a new standing committee to address health in all policies. OPHA has received several APHA grants to support local public health department pursuit of accreditation.

Another result of the APHA grant was to encourage the Governing Council to explore diversify funding streams. This included establishing an annual fundraising dinner to be more proactive in seeking donations, being more intentional about grants, and providing consultation and support services for other organizations. A novel addition to OPHA’s business model came in 2012 with the receipt of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to develop A Public Health Professional Services Model, a mechanism to provide temporary public health staffing. This is the largest grant that OPHA has received.

In 2014, OPHA was asked by US Senator Sherrod Brown to convene a meeting for himself and the CDC Director Thomas Friedan with a select group of Ohio’s local public health professionals. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the poor overall health status of Ohioans and dwindling public health funds and resources coming into the state and possible suggestions for improvement.

We are proud of our history – in all regards! And by remembering that history and those who brought us this far, we are excited to proudly lead into our future!