Category Archives: Health Impact Assessment

Sep 24 2013
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Second Annual National Health Impact Assessment Meeting: NewPublicHealth Q&A with Denise Provost

Massachusetts State Representative Denise Provost Massachusetts State Representative Denise Provost

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.

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Sep 24 2013
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Second National Health Impact Assessment Meeting Begins Today

Building on the success of the Inaugural Health Impact Assessment (HIA) meeting held in April 2012, leading HIA stakeholders including the Health Impact Project—a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts—and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) convened the second national HIA meeting today, in Washington D.C.

>> Follow the real-time Twitter conversation about the conference with the hashtag #NatHIA13.

>>Follow NewPublicHealth’s coverage of the National Health Impact Assessment meeting on our blog and on Twitter with @RWJF_PubHealth.

An HIA is a tool that helps evaluate the potential health effects of a plan, project or policy before it is built or implemented. It can provide recommendations to increase positive health outcomes and minimize adverse health outcomes. It can also bring potential public health impacts and considerations to the decision-making process for plans, projects and policies that fall outside the traditional public health arenas, such as transportation and land use.

While HIAs have been conducted for decades, their wider use has become more common in just the last few years. According to the Health Impact Project, more than 200 HIAs have been conducted in the United States on issues as diverse as transportation, economic policy and climate change.

NewPublicHealth has created a short HIA resource list with links to background information on health impact assessments.

Aug 27 2013
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Chicago Public Health: Q&A with Bechara Choucair

Bechara Choucair, MD, MS, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health Bechara Choucair, MD, MS, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health

Last week the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) awarded five-year national accreditation status to five public health departments, bringing the number of health departments now accredited to 19 since the credential was launched two years ago. Hundreds more health departments are currently preparing to apply for accreditation, which includes a peer-reviewed assessment process to ensure it meets or exceeds a set of public health quality standards and measures. Among the newly accredited is the Chicago Department of Public Health.

"This is an important achievement and recognition that highlights the city of Chicago’s ongoing commitment to health and wellness on the part of all of our residents,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement issued by PHAB.  "We are focused on policies that will help all Chicagoans and their families enjoy the highest quality of life, [and w]e will continue to strive to make Chicago one of the healthiest cities in the world."

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Bechara Choucair, MD, MS, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, about the value of accreditation for improving the health of the community—and about how this effort supports Healthy Chicago, the city’s public health agenda.

>>Read more about Healthy Chicago in a previous NewPublicHealth Q&A with Choucair.

NewPublicHealth: You’re one of the first public health departments to be accredited. How did that happen so quickly?

Bechara Choucair: When we released Healthy Chicago in 2011, one of the strategies we identified was to obtain accreditation. We wanted to be the first big city to earn the credential. It took us 18 months and we are excited that we are the first big city to be accredited and the first in Illinois. And one of the added bonuses of accreditation is a sense of pride. It says a lot to our staff, residents and our mayor.

NPH: A community health assessment is required as part of the accreditation application. What did Chicago’s community health assessments entail?

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Jul 31 2013
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Assessing Health Impacts of Changes to SNAP: A Q&A with Aaron Wernham of the Health Impact Project

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal government’s principal program for helping low-income families purchase enough food. More than 47 million Americans currently receive SNAP benefits; approximately half of the beneficiaries are children. As part of the debate over the Farm Bill—legislation that authorizes SNAP and other federal nutrition programs—Congress is considering legislation that would cut SNAP benefits and limit who qualifies for the benefits.

Yesterday, the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, released a white paper that provides a rigorous, objective and nonpartisan analysis of the potential health impacts of the proposed changes to SNAP.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project, along with lead researcher Marjory Givens, to learn more about the study’s findings.

NewPublicHealth: What is the goal of the health impact assessment on the potential changes to the SNAP program?

Aaron Wernham: Congress is deliberating reauthorizing the U.S. Farm Bill, and one of the parts of that is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps. This is one of the federal government’s main programs for ensuring that people who have low incomes are able to get enough to eat. We did this health impact assessment because so far the public health effects of these proposed policy changes have not really been a part of the political debate. We wanted to make sure that the best available public health evidence was brought to bear to help ensure that everyone has complete information—those affected by the change, the general public and decision-makers in Congress.

NPH: What’s the big picture on what SNAP has to do with health in the first place?

Wernham: Not having enough to eat—or being what’s called “food insecure”—is attached to a higher risk of a lot of diseases. So, adults who are food insecure have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some other problems. Children who are food insecure are more likely to be reported by their parents as being in poor health, are more likely to be hospitalized and also have a higher risk for a number of health related problems from asthma, to depression and anxiety. We actually have a number of studies that have looked at the health benefits of receiving SNAP and found, for example, that adults who had access to SNAP when they were children are less likely to have problems in adulthood, such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.

NPH: What did the health impact assessment find?

Wernham: We looked at ways in which the House and Senate have proposed to change how eligibility for SNAP benefits is determined and how the amount of benefits is determined. Both the House and Senate have proposed changes, and we found that as many as 5.1 million people could actually lose eligibility under changes proposed by the House. Under the changes in the Senate, about 500,000 people might receive lower benefit amounts. With the House changes, as many as 1.4 million children and nearly 900,000 older adults would be among those five million people who could be affected. So, for those people, they would lose upward of an average of 35 percent of their total income and would be at higher risk for the health problems that relate to food insecurity.

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Jun 26 2013
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AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting: Hospital Community Benefit

Under the Affordable Care Act, tax-exempt hospitals are now required to conduct a community health needs assessment at least every three years and develop an implementation strategy to tackle the needs identified by the assessment.

At this week’s AcademyHealth meeting in Baltimore, experts moved from the “guess what you have to do” approach to community benefit heard at some public health meetings to some practical strategies hospitals can follow not only to fulfill the letter of the law, but to actually improve community health.

Peter Sartorius, community benefit director of the Muskegon (Michigan) Community Health Project, which brings together several Mercy hospitals in the region, told the audience that costs of the requirement can range from about $12,000 for a staff person to conduct the needs assessment to about $65,000 if a consultancy, such as a public health institute, does the work. Mercy requires that the County Health Rankings, developed through a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, be used by the hospitals in its network as the baseline measures of community health.

Sartorius urged hospitals to choose “collaborative partners” such as community health clinics, United Way agencies and universities, who can help develop the assessment and report and also share in the cost. Others have said that community benefit also offers a ripe opportunity for collaboration between hospitals and public health departments, which already house a lot of data and have similar community needs assessment requirements for voluntary accreditation.

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May 20 2013
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Call for Abstracts: Second National Health Impact Assessment Meeting

The Second National Health Impact Assessment (HIA) Meeting takes place September 24-25 in Washington, D.C., and the deadline for abstract submissions is fast approaching. The conference will bring together policymakers, public health professionals, HIA practitioners; community-based organizations; researchers and decision makers from non-health agencies all who may use or rely on the results of HIAs in the fields of planning, transportation, housing, agriculture, energy, environment, and education.

The planning committee for this year’s meeting is currently seeking abstracts for a variety of sessions, particularly from presenters who will be releasing new research. Abstracts, due by Wednesday, May 29, should clearly state what new information will be presented and its impact on a specific sector or the field of HIA more generally.

Aside from the typical poster sessions and presentations, the HIA Meeting will also feature opportunities to dive deep on specific and cross-cutting topics.

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May 7 2013
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Bringing Health Into Decisions Across Sectors: HIA on Potential Coal Plant Closure

file The Rise of HIAs in the United States infographic courtesy of the Health Impact Project. View the full infographic below.

The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently announced eight new grant recipients that will receive funding to conduct health impact assessments (HIAs). The projects will bring health considerations into upcoming decisions on topics including education, sanitation infrastructure, and energy.

“Our new grantees will use health impact assessments to uncover opportunities to improve health in a wide range of policy decisions, as well as to identify and avoid potential unintended consequences,” said Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project. “These eight HIAs are the latest in a fast-growing field, as more cities and states find them a useful way to bring health into decisions in other sectors.”

By the end of 2007, there were 27 completed HIAs in the United States. There are now more than 225 completed or in progress, according to the Health Impact Project map of HIA activity in the United States.

Funding for some of the new proposals was also provided by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and The California Endowment.

Some of the new HIAs that have received funding include:

  • Partners for a Healthier Community, Inc. will undertake an HIA to inform decisions about a proposed casino in western Massachusetts. Decision-makers—including the state gaming commission, local government officials, and voters—will consider siting options as well as licensing, regulation, design and development of the casino. The HIA will examine health risks that might be linked to gambling—including substance abuse, mental health, and injury—and potential health benefits related to employment opportunity, access to health insurance, and community revenues. 
  • The University of Texas at El Paso, will conduct an HIA on the impacts of proposed water and sanitation improvement projects on the town of Vinton, Texas. Vinton primarily relies on failing septic tanks and cesspools for wastewater removal and domestic wells with poor water quality. Poor water and sanitation are associated with gastrointestinal illnesses and other serious health conditions such as hepatitis, dysentery, and dehydration. Improved systems could not only improve public health but also support economic development and long-term sustainability of local businesses and industry. 
  • An HIA by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, in collaboration with the Purchase District Health Department, will examine the potential health benefits and risks of the retrofit or retirement of the Shawnee coal plant in Paducah, KY, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The HIA will analyze environmental health concerns associated with air and water pollution from the plant and the effects of its closure on the community including employment, individual income, and revenue for local services important to health.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with two of the researchers conducting the Shawnee coal plant HIA, Elizabeth Crowe, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, and Deborah Payne, energy and health coordinator for the Foundation.

NewPublicHealth: What is the scope of the HIA you’re conducting? 

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Apr 5 2013
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Faces of Public Health: Fern Goodhart

file Fern Goodhart, former Public Health Fellow in Government

The American Public Health Association (APHA) is currently accepting applications through April 8 for the association’s one-year Public Health Fellowship in Government. Fellows work in a congressional office on legislative and policy health issues. The position gives Fellows the opportunity to learn about the legislative process in Washington, DC, which can be a critical skill once they return to their positions in public health, since policies are an important tool that can be used to protect Americans and their communities from preventable, serious health threats.  And it also allows Fellows to provide critical input, drawing on their knowledge and experience, on the decisions that impact public health at the national policy level.

To get some background on the role of a Fellow and the impact that public health practitioners can have when working in the national policy arena, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Fern Goodhart, current legislative assistant to Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), who spent the tenure of her fellowship working in the office of Senator Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey). Ms. Goodhart was the first person awarded the APHA policy fellowship and served in 2007-2008.

NewPublicHealth: What was your background before you took the fellowship?

Fern Goodhart: I have worked in public health for 30 years including at a state health department; as director of health education at an ambulatory center; as a medical school instructor; as a member of an autonomous board of health; and as a member of my city council. So I’ve had the opportunity to see how policy was made on the local level and the state level. What brought me to the APHA Fellowship was the desire to see firsthand how policy was made at the federal level.

NPH: What kind of work did that involve?

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Apr 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 3

CDC Vital Signs: 1 in 5 Teen Births is a Repeat Birth
Although teen births have fallen over the past 20 years, nearly one in five is a repeat birth, according to a Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 365,000 teenage girls ages 15-19 years gave birth in 2010, and almost 67,000 (18.3 percent) of those were repeat births. A repeat birth is a second (or more) pregnancy resulting in a live birth before the mother turns 20. “Teen birth rates in the United States have declined to a record low, which is good news,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “But rates are still far too high. Repeat births can negatively impact the mother’s education and job opportunities as well as the health of the next generation. Teens, parents, health care providers, and others need to do much more to reduce unintended pregnancies.” Data from CDC’s National Vital Statistics System show that repeat teen births in the United States decreased by more than 6 percent between 2007 and 2010. Despite this decline, the number of repeat births remains high and there are substantial racial/ethnic and geographic differences. Repeat teen births were highest among American Indian/Alaska Natives (21.6 percent), Hispanics (20.9 percent), and non-Hispanic blacks (20.4 percent), and lowest among non-Hispanic whites (14.8 percent). Read more on maternal and child health.

Health Impact Project Announces Eight New Funded Projects
The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, has recently added eight more grantees who will receive funding to conduct health impact assessments, or HIAs. The projects will bring health considerations into upcoming decisions on topics including education, sanitation infrastructure, and energy. “Our new grantees will use health impact assessments to uncover opportunities to improve health in a wide range of policy decisions, as well as to identify and avoid potential unintended consequences,” said Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project. “These eight HIAs are the latest in a fast-growing field, as more cities and states find them a useful way to bring health into decisions in other sectors.” By the end of 2007, there were 27 completed HIAs in the United States. There are now more than 225 completed or in progress, according to the Health Impact Project map of HIA activity in the United States. Read more on health impact assessment.

Post-ER Visit for Chest Pain Reduces Heart Attack Risk
Seeing a doctor within a month of an emergency room visit for chest pain significantly reduced the risk of a heart attack or death among high risk patients, according to a recent study in the journal Circulation. Researchers analyzed data on 56,767 adults (average age 66, 53 percent men) in Ontario, Canada, who were diagnosed with chest pain in an emergency room between April 2004 and March 2010 and had been previously diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes. They tracked data for a median 3.7 years and accounted for differences in key patient characteristics such as age, gender, health status and location. According to the study, only 17 percent of high risk chest pain patients seen in the emergency room were evaluated by cardiologists within a month; 58 percent saw a primary care physician and 25 percent had no physician follow-up within a month. Patients who followed up with a cardiologist within 30 days were 21 percent less likely to have a heart attack or die within one year, compared with patients who failed to seek additional care within that time. Patients seen by a primary care physician were 7 percent less likely to have a heart attack or die compared to those patients who sought no follow up care. Read more on heart health.

Mar 8 2013
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Registration Opens for Second National Health Impact Assessment Meeting

An article in the  New York Times this week looks at the role of health impact assessments (HIAs), a tool that helps policymakers at all levels of government more fully understand the health effects of proposed laws, regulations, programs and projects—from big infrastructure projects to school curriculum development—and craft recommendations that capitalize on opportunities to improve health.

HIAs are a fast growing tool: nearly 225 of the assessments have been completed or are in process across the U.S., according to the Health Impact Project, a national initiative designed to promote the use of health impact assessments as a decision-making tool for policymakers. The Health Impact Project is a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

 “People in the public health world and in the business and development world are waking up to the need to get at health care problems and bring down health care costs,” says Aaron Wernham, MD, MPH, director of the Health Impact Project, in the New York Times article. “So we see a fair amount of uptake in certain sectors — the health impact assessment is out there and growing.”

Growth of the tool is also well indicated by last year’s sold out Inaugural National Health Impact Assessment Meeting. Registration has just opened for the second National Health Impact Assessment Meeting, to be held in Washington, D.C., September 24 and 25, 2013.

The meeting will bring together policymakers, public health professionals,  HIA practitioners; community-based organizations; researchers and decision makers from non-health agencies all who may use  or rely on the results of  HIAs in the fields of planning, transportation, housing, agriculture, energy, environment, and education.

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