Category Archives: Health Impact Assessment
Center for Community Health and Evaluation Releases First National Evaluation of HIAs: Q&A with Tatiana Lin
Health impact assessments (HIAs) are evidence-based analyses that estimate future health benefits and risks of proposed laws, regulations, programs and projects. They provide decision makers with an opportunity to minimize health risks and enhance health benefits. HIA practitioners say the tool allows for more informed—and potentially healthier—decisions related to land use, transportation, housing, education, energy and agriculture.
The Center for Community Health and Evaluation, a division of Group Health Research Institute, a nonprofit based in Seattle, recently published a national study on HIAs that looked at their utility and potential improvements.
The new study outlines how HIAs change decision making and highlights evidence that HIAs can also lead to stronger cross-sector relationships, greater attention to community voices and longer-term changes beyond the initial decision the HIA is focused on.
Key findings of the Center’s evaluation include:
- HIAs can contribute directly to the decision-making process and help achieve policy outcomes that are better for health.
- There are opportunities to advance the HIA field in the areas of stakeholder and decision-maker engagement, dissemination and follow-up.
- Attention to specific elements can increase likelihood of HIA success.
A past HIA funded by a grant from the Health Impact Project, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts, was conducted in 2012 by the Kansas Health Institute (KHI) and looked at the health impacts of building a casino in Southeast Kansas (a law that would move such a project forward was enacted last month).
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Tatiana Lin, the author of the HIA and a senior analyst at KHI, about the recent HIA evaluation and lessons learned from the HIAs KHI has worked on so far.
In 1979 a dam broke at a uranium processing mill in McKinley County, New Mexico, releasing more than 1,100 tons of uranium mining waste and 100 million gallons of radioactive water—the second largest radioactive materials accident in the United States. Since then, say public health experts, minimal attention has been given to the health risks associated with the environmental contamination from the accident, or of the risks posed by plans for new mining opportunities in the region.
The McKinley County Place Matters team and its partners want to ensure that people are aware of the health risks associated with working in the mines, as well as secondary exposure through such things as a relative’s clothes or pollutants from the mines. The team also wants to address the health and social needs that resulted from the accident decades ago. In addition, people living in the community have noticed increased rates of cancers and other health problems, and state health assessment reports show that between 2008 and 2010, cancer was the leading cause of death in McKinley County.
“To proceed with more mines without knowing the scope of impact to people’s health is dangerous,” said Jordon Johnson, the county’s Place Matters team leader.
The team’s vision statement is that “all people in McKinley County live in a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment that honors health-in-all policies and leaves a legacy of responsible leadership grounded in equity.” Its mission is to use a health equity lens to change systems that perpetuate environmental health disparities related to the impacts of multi-generational trauma and institutional racism by empowering participating communities within the county to impact equitable policy change.
Key Team Objectives:
- Heal individual and community health and restore the environment with Traditional and Western values and medicine.
- Use the Navajo Nation Fundamental Laws as the foundation to shift conversations around uranium mining and justice.
- Conduct a health impact assessment on mining in the county to look at determinants of health including environmental pollution and contamination; displacement and relocation; community efficacy; and cultural relevance of the land to holistic health.
- Support the community in building a multipurpose facility to serve as a space to heal, gather for meetings, and provide education.
- To educate decision makers and general public about the poor health outcomes related to uranium mining.
- To model a non-hierarchal structure, establishing shared leadership and creating a safe space for open and honest discussions to emerge about difficult subjects, particularly related to environmental justice and race relations. These conversations, along with a foundational understanding and commitment to moving the local community forward in a culturally relevant way, contribute to elevating the voices of community members participating in local decisions, said team leader Jordon Johnson.
The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently announced the fourth national call for proposals to fund health impact assessments (HIAs) through demonstration project grants and program grants. HIAs, a tool gaining in use across the world, identify and address the health impacts of decisions in other sectors, such as agriculture, education and criminal justice.
“The most common and serious health problems facing Americans—including diabetes, asthma, and injury—have roots in the conditions where we live and work,” said Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project. “Policymakers at all levels can make a difference by factoring health into decisions on education, transportation, energy, budget and other important policy questions. People are increasingly finding health impact assessments an efficient and cost-effective way to do that.”
HIAs are quickly gaining tracking as tools that can help improve population heath. For example, as a result of an HIA on a housing redevelopment plan, community residents in Denver, Colo. now have improved street crossings, lighting and bike lanes. And an HIA on the Minnesota legislature’s decisions to address school integration and improve education outcomes for students of color resulted in several changes to the bill, leading to new partnerships between the state departments of health and education to bring public health into education decisions more broadly.
The new funding opportunities are available to government agencies, tribal agencies, educational organizations and nonprofits. They offer two kinds of awards:
- Demonstration project grants: The Health Impact Project will award up to six demonstration project grants for up to $100,000 each and provide training and technical assistance for single HIAs to inform a specific proposed policy, program, plan, or project. Applicants don’t need to have previous HIA experience, but preference will go to applicants proposing innovative topics for HIAs, such as criminal justice; education; fiscal and economic policy; and disaster recovery; or proposing work in states and regions that have seen relatively little HIA activity to date including U.S. territories, Alabama, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
- HIA program grants: These grants will support organizations with prior HIA experience to conduct one or more new HIAs and to implement a plan that establishes the relationships, systems and funding mechanisms needed to maintain a stable HIA program beyond the grant period. The Health Impact Project will fund up to five program grants for up to $250,000 each.
The deadline for initial grant proposals is April 2, 2014.
The Health Impact Project will host two webinars for potential applicants:
- Wednesday, March 5 at 3:00 ET - Demonstration project informational webinar (Registration required)
- Thursday, March 6 at 3:00 ET - Program grant informational webinar (Registration required)
Read more about HIAs on NewPublicHealth.
A session on health in all policies at the American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting in Boston gave prominent attention to a newly released publication on the topic: An Introduction to Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Governments. The guide was issued collaboratively by APHA, the California Endowment, the California Department of Health and the Public Health Institute.
It was released last month and is geared, according to its authors, “toward state and local government leaders who want to use intersectoral collaboration to promote healthy environments.”
The guide includes a history of health in all policies, case studies, a glossary, messaging, resources and a list of critical thinking questions. It draws heavily on the experiences of the California Health in All Policies Task Force, which was created in 2010 by an executive order of the governor and grew out of a common interest among several California agencies in climate change, health and childhood obesity. The task force brings together non-government stakeholders and local government representatives in its “health-in-all-policies” work through workshops, meetings and opportunities for public comment and testimony.
The Guide emphasizes that there is no one “right” way to implement a health-in-all-policies approach, but puts forward five key elements:
- Promote health, equity and sustainability
- Support for Intersectoral collaboration
- Benefit multiple partners
- Engage stakeholders
- Create structural or procedural change
- Health Impact Assessments (HIA) are one of the key tools addressed in the new Guide. See a regularly updated map on HIAs in the United States created by the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- HIA was front and center at the American Public Health Association meeting, with more than thirty presentations this week. Read a summary of the HIAs discussed at the meeting, prepared by the Health Impact Project.
>>NewPublicHealth was on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Find the complete coverage here.
At the recent 2nd Annual National Heath Impact Assessment Meeting held in Washington, D.C.,Paul Anderson, MD, MPH, manager of the HIA Program at the Alaska Department of Health, spoke about his state’s HIA efforts and successes. NewPublicHealth caught up with Anderson following the meeting to ask about lessons learned that can benefit other public health officials considering and conducting health impact assessments.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the HIA program in Alaska and how the health department has made HIA a routine part of decision making.
Paul Anderson: HIA in Alaska started with a couple of health impact assessments done in conjunction with natural resource development permitting and environmental impact statements (EISs) in the north of the state. These studies generated increased interest in the human health concerns that arise during project permitting. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) contacted the Alaska Division of Public Health, asking us if we could get involved with this new idea—called health impact assessment—as it related to natural resource development permitting.
After some deliberation, we realized the importance of being involved with this work, and so we developed an HIA working group. That working group met for about three years and developed an HIA Toolkit, which is our guidance document for performing HIA in Alaska. Out of that working group came a realization that Alaska needed an institutionalized HIA program in order to lead this process forward effectively. So the group eventually decided to create an HIA Program in the Division of Public Health under the Section of Epidemiology.
NPH: Have you worked collaboratively in Alaska on HIAs?
Anderson: When our program was new, we wanted to conduct field work because we needed additional health information regarding a specific region of rural Alaska. This field work involved utilizing surveys, which can be very tiring for rural communities because they are surveyed frequently. There are several agencies in Alaska that already do surveys as a routine part of their work, and one of those is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. They go house-to-house and community-to-community and use a very well-designed survey tool to learn about subsistence foods. They worked with us to integrate some important questions about food consumption onto their survey form. This turned out to be an effective cooperative relationship that benefitted both agencies and reduced the strain on rural communities.
A key session at the Second National Health Impact Assessment Annual Meeting held recently in Washington, D.C., was a panel discussion on several evaluations of the value and benefits of health impact assessments (HIAs). Andrew Dannenberg, MD, MPH, an affiliate professor at the University Of Washington School of Public Health, was a consultant on a recent evaluation of HIAs funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a member of the evaluation panel at the HIA meeting. NewPublicHealth spoke with Professor Dannenberg about some recent findings.
NewPublicHealth: What have the recent evaluations of HIA as a tool told us about the value conducting health impact assessments?
Andrew Dannenberg: Essentially, HIA works. The tool does seem to promote health, and does have influence in some cases but not others. HIAs can influence the health component of [policy] decisions.
There are also indirect HIA benefits: by getting public health professionals talking with decision makers in other sectors—such as transportation and housing—HIAs create partnerships and collaborations for longer-term value. So a transportation department building a highway may then always realize that there are health implications of what gets constructed.
We also came away with a list of factors that influence HIAs to make them successful. The list includes:
- Timeliness is often a factor when doing an HIA (in that the HIA must be completed and recommendations made in time to support or influence the policy decision).
- Involving stakeholders and decision makers gives a better chance that the recommendations will be considered.
- It is important to have community engagement and feedback, or, particularly when it is an HIA being done rapidly, it is critical to have a well-informed health leader at the helm.
- It is critical to screen the topic to be sure it is appropriate for an HIA.
- Dissemination to stakeholders, decision makers and media is very important, using methods, length and language appropriately customized for those audiences.
- HIA recommendations need to be clear and actionable.
- The Australian evaluation found that a key to successful HIAs was getting the right people at the right time to work together.
NPH: Do you have an example of an HIA that showed that using the tool leads to better decision making?
Dannenberg: An HIA conducted in San Francisco several years ago is one of our clearest examples. A developer wanted to tear down some low-income housing to build more expensive apartments that would have displaced the low-income people living at the site. The Department of Health conducted an HIA, which made it clear that it is bad for health to take low income people in an expensive city and throw them out in the street with no housing.
“[Health Impact Assessments have] taught people how to think and speak differently, clearly, objectively,” according to Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman. “Suddenly we are saying those words we don’t say often enough in government: Are you comfortable with the environmental and health impacts of this decision?”
NewPublicHealth caught up with Cimperman soon after his plenary address at the second annual National Health Impact Assessment meeting held in Washington, D.C., this week. He is an HIA supporter and enthusiast who is already engaged in health impact assessments for the city of Cleveland.
NewPublicHealth: What was your impression of the HIA meeting?
Joe Cimperman: I was blown away by so many different things—the geographic diversity of the people attending, and the many ideas they presented in questions and in private conversations after I spoke.
NPH: In your opinion, what is the intrinsic value of health impact assessments?
Cimperman: HIA has been a model for how to get things done right. But the tool also allows us to get closer to people and their specific needs by going through the process—which is such an important component—to find out how we help individuals when we make policy-level decisions. If we want to restore our cities, we need to ask what problems we’re solving.
NPH: What’s a strong example of an HIA in your community that was innovative and beneficial?
Cimperman: We have completed an HIA on the health implications of proposed legislation to expand agriculture into urban areas. Cities like ours have enough land that we can think about the different and best ways to use some of it—and urban agriculture is a means of helping people use the land themselves, and use it for something other than home and industrial construction. I think we’ve been able to do so much good by applying an HIA because we’re answering questions right up front. The Urban Agriculture overlay district is a proposed piece of legislation that would introduce intense farm uses in an urbanized environment, including livestock, community gardens and commercial gardens. While the uses are thought to have positive impacts on human health—such as access to fresh fruits and vegetables, community cohesion through the establishment of gardens, potential economic opportunities and a productive reuse of vacant land—unintended adverse impacts to human health include increased animal waste, potential exposure to carcinogens created by insecticides, and increases in noise and odor levels.
NewPublicHealth Q&A: Florence Fulk and Tami Thomas-Burton on the Impact of the Environment on Health
Florence Fulk, MS, BS, a research biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Tami Thomas-Burton, BS, MPH, of the Office of the Regional Administrator-Environmental Justice at EPA, will be speaking at the National Health Impact Assessment meeting this week on HIAs and environmental policy. NewPublicHealth caught up with Fulk and Thomas-Burton ahead of the conference to ask about EPA’s use of health impact assessments.
NewPublicHealth: What steps has the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken with respect to health impact assessments?
Florence Fulk: Within EPA is the Office of Research and Development, and within that office we have a Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program which is providing tools, models and approaches to support HIAs across the country. We’re also demonstrating HIA as an approach to integrate and weigh tradeoff in community decision making.
NPH: Why is the EPA investing in health impact assessments?
Fulk: The primary vision for the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program is to inform and empower communities to look at human health, economic and environmental factors in their decision making, and to do it in a way that fosters community sustainability. And that vision is very closely linked to the values and the function of HIAs. The number of HIAs that are being conducted in the United States and the number of people that are conducting HIAs in the United States has formed this growing community of practice, which can inform our Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program by understanding the decisions that communities are facing and how they’re bringing health, economic and environmental information to the process.
We also see that by growing a community of practice as a network to disseminate EPA tools, models, data and guidance, the research that we do to support HIAs also gives us a way to raise awareness about sustainable alternatives in community decisions.
One of the most sought-after experts at the second national Health Impact Assessment (HIA) meeting, currently underway in Washington, D.C., is Arthur Wendel, MD, MPH, team lead for the Healthy Community Design Initiative at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is a sponsor of the HIA meeting. Health impact assessments are decision-making tools that help identify the health consequences of policies in other sectors.
NewPublicHealth caught up with Dr. Wendel just after the first plenary session.
NewPublicHealth: How’s the meeting so far?
Arthur Wendel: The first plenary speaker, councilman Joseph Cimperman form Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, was just an outstanding speaker and made such a good impression for the whole conference. When you have a policymaker come in and provide a fresh perspective about how health impact assessments can make a difference, that sets the stage for attendees.
>>Editor’s Note: NewPublicHealth will be speaking with Councilman Cimperman later this week about his championing of HIA work in Cleveland, including a health impact assessment on the city’s budget, the first time the tool has been used that way.
NPH: How long has CDC been involved in health impact assessments?
Arthur Wendel: CDC has been involved with health impact assessments, through the Healthy Community Design Initiative, since 2003. The initiative is part of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, and initially we were just kind of trying to figure out the field of health impact assessments, learn a little bit about it from some domestic and international groups that conducted health impact assessments. Some of the initial steps were just trying to provide technical assistance for a few HIAs. That gave us a little bit of flavor for how health impact assessments were done, and from that initial effort we started to compile some research. One of the initial papers that came out of our group was identifying the first 27 HIAs that were conducted in the United States and some of the common characteristics among them.
>>Looking for examples of successful HIAs? Read stories from the field from CDC grantees.
A key panel discussion during the National Health Impact Assessment (HIA) meeting will be on perspectives on health impact assessments with policymakers. Ahead of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with State Representative Denise Provost (D), of Somerville, Mass., who will be one of the panel members.
NewPublicHealth: How does it value governing, communities and population health by factoring health into policies made in other sectors?
Denise Provost: Governance should always take consideration of health. Legislators should actually embrace the first principle of the Hippocratic Oath, which is “first do no harm.” Sometimes by action or inaction we, as a nation, have pursued policies which we’ve discovered are not so good for health. Some are market forces that end up being reinforced by the actions of government. Looking out for the health impact on the population needs to be part of the long-term view of what we do. The particular discipline of looking at health through a health impact assessment is valuable for government because policy makers are often disparaged by scientists for governing by anecdote and that’s a real danger in the absence of quantitative analysis based on peer reviewed studies. The HIAs I’ve seen employ that kind of methodology.
The value of HIAs to communities is that they will in the long term—and even in the short- or middle-term—enjoy better health and fewer negative health effects from government decisions or government failure to reign in market forces that result in conditions that cause bad health as part of their business model.
NPH: Can you give us examples of HIAs in your community that have been innovative and beneficial?
Provost: We’re still in early days with HIAs but one, as contemplated by our 2009 transportation reform bill, has some fairly groundbreaking language in it that requires our secretaries of transportation, health and the environment to convene regularly and look at healthy transportation projects very broadly. They’re also charged with developing tools such as HIAs for use in the evaluation of transportation projects.