Category Archives: Housing

Jun 13 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 13

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Older Hispanics Taking their Medicines Because of Medicare Prescription Drug Plans
Hispanics have reduced the gap with whites in taking prescribed heart medicines since the 2006 launch of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit—Medicare Part D. The findings were reported in a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2014 Scientific Sessions earlier this month. Researchers reviewed prescription drug data from Medicare’s national Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for white, African-American and Hispanic Medicare seniors for the years 2007-10. After Part D, adherence rates increased among all racial groups, with the highest increase in whites and Hispanics, but increased only slightly among African-Americans.

  • Hispanics’ total group adherence rate improved about 60 percent.
  • Whites’ adherence rate improved 47 percent.
  • African-Americans’ adherence rate improved about 9 percent.

Read more on heart health.

USDA Announces Grants to Help Repair Houses in Rural Areas
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it is seeking applications for grants of about $4 million to preserve and repair housing for very-low- and low-income families living in rural areas. The funds are being made available by the USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program. Eligible applicants include town or county governments; public agencies; federally recognized Indian Tribes; and non-profit and faith-based organizations. Applications are due July 28. Examples of previous grants include a 2012 award to Habitat for Humanity Lake County (Calif.), which received a $55,000 Housing Preservation Grant to help 12 low-income homeowners repair their homes. One person helped was a Vietnam veteran who used a wheelchair and could not leave his home without assistance. Habitat for Humanity widened his doorway and installed a wheelchair lift. Read more on housing.

Many U.S. Cancer Survivors Face Serious Financial Burdens
Many U.S. cancer survivors face significant economic burdens due to growing medical costs, missed work and reduced productivity, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Cancer survivors face physical, emotional, psychosocial, employment and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Donatus U. Ekwueme, PhD, a senior health economist at CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase by more than 30 percent in the next decade—to 18 million Americans. Researchers analyzed data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 2008-2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to estimate annual medical costs and productivity losses among cancer survivors  aged 18 years and older, and among persons without a cancer diagnosis. Among those employed, more than 42 percent had to make changes to their work hours and duties. The report also found that about 10 percent of survivors aged 65 years and younger were uninsured and likely to have a larger financial burden compared to survivors with some source of payment for medical services. Read more on cancer

May 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 23

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HUD Awards $40 Million in Housing Counseling Grants
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded more than $40 million in grants to hundreds of national, regional and local organizations to help families and individuals with their housing needs and to prevent future foreclosures.

“HUD-approved counseling agencies use this funding to support a wide range of services from assisting lower income persons to locate an affordable apartment to helping first-time homebuyers avoid unsustainable mortgages,” said Secretary of Housing Shaun Donovan.

More than $38 million will directly support the housing counseling services provided by 29 national and regional organizations, seven multi-state organizations, 22 state housing finance agencies and 232 local housing counseling agencies. In addition, HUD is awarding $2 million to three national organizations to train housing counselors with the instruction and certification necessary to effectively assist families with their housing needs.

In 2012, HUD released two reports on the impact of HUD-approved housing counseling for families who purchase their first homes and those struggling to prevent foreclosure. In both studies, HUD found housing counseling significantly improved the likelihood homeowners remained in their homes.

Read more on housing

Chest Pain Incidence Drops for Whites, But not for Blacks
The percentage of people reporting angina (chest pain) dropped in the last two decades among Americans 65 and older and white people 40 and older — but not among black Americans, according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Angina is chest pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen-rich blood.

Researchers analyzed national health survey data starting in 1988 to find how many patients reported that a health care professional had told them they have the condition and how many people report angina symptoms.

They found:

  • The rates for whites 40 and older reporting a history of angina dropped by about one-third, from the 2001-04 survey to the 2009-12 survey.
  • The rates for whites 40 and older reporting angina symptoms declined by half from the 1988-94 survey to 2009-12 survey.
  • For blacks, the rates were essentially unchanged.
  • The rates for American women 65 and older reporting a history of angina dropped nearly in half from the 2001-04 survey to the 2009-12 survey.
  • The rates for women 65 and older reporting angina symptoms declined by almost 60 percent from the 1988-94 survey to 2009-12 survey; the rates for men in this age group declined by more than 40 percent during this same time period

Read more on heart health

United States, Canada and Mexico Set Guidelines to Strengthen Information Sharing in Health Emergencies
The United States, Canada and Mexico have adopted a set of principles and guidelines on how the three countries’ governments will share advance public information and communications during health emergencies impacting the countries.

The Declaration of Intent calls on the three countries to:

  • Share public communications plans, statements and other communications products related to health emergencies with each other prior to their public release;
  • Apprise other appropriate authorities, depending on the type of health emergency, within their respective governments when the declaration is invoked;
  • Conduct an annual short communications exercise to improve joint coordination; and
  • Hold recurrent meetings to review and propose amendments to the Declaration of Intent.

Read more on preparedness

May 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 20

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New NCHH, APHA Standards to Improve U.S. Housing Health
A new report from the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) establishes new standards to help improve housing for all Americans. The new National Healthy Housing Standard outlines a health-focused property maintenance policy for the nation’s 100 million existing homes—single family, multifamily, rental and owner occupied. Approximately 40 percent of metropolitan homes have one or more health and safety hazards, according to the NCHH, while the American Housing Survey determined that approximately 6.3 million housing units are considered to be substandard. “While we have made great strides in improving the quality of housing nationwide, too many Americans are left making the false choice between affordable or quality housing. Families deserve access to quality and affordable housing that allows them to put down roots in a community, build wealth, put kids through college and start businesses,” said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, in a release. Read more on housing.

Red Cross Campaign Will Work to Cut Drowning in Half in 50 U.S. Cities
As part of its celebration of 100 years of swimming safety education, the Red Cross is launching a new national campaign to reduce the drowning rate by 50 percent in 50 U.S. cities. The 3-5 year campaign will target 50,000 people across 19 states. A new survey from the organization’s drowning prevention campaign found that while 80 percent of Americans said they could swim, only about 56 percent of those people exhibited “water competency”—meaning that they could perform these five critical water safety skills:

  • Step or jump into the water over your head
  • Return to the surface and float or tread water for one minute
  • Turn around in a full circle and find an exit
  • Swim 25 yards to the exit
  • Exit from the water

“We're asking every family to make sure that both adults and children can swim and that parents make water safety a priority this summer,” said Connie Harvey, director of the Red Cross Centennial Initiative. Read more on injury prevention.

CDC Releases Vaccine Schedule App for Clinicians, Health Care Professionals
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a new app that provides clinicians and other health care professionals access to the CDC’s latest recommended immunization schedules. The CDC Vaccine Schedules app replicates the appearance of the printed schedules that are reviewed and published each year, and includes information such as the correct vaccine and dosage. The schedules include:

  • Child and adolescent schedules with immunization recommendations from birth through age 18
  • Catch-up schedule for children 4 months through 18 years
  • Adult schedule, including recommended vaccines for adults by age group and by medical condition
  • Contraindications and precautions table, with all footnotes that apply to schedules

The app is available in the iTunes App Store and will be released for Android devices in a few months. Read more on vaccines.

Apr 30 2014
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Harvard School of Public Health Special Report: The Financial Crisis as a Public Health Crisis

“Five years after the Great Recession officially came to an end, the United States has yet to fully recover from the economic devastation sparked by the collapse of an $8 trillion housing bubble and the ensuing turmoil that saw global financial systems teetering on the brink of collapse. But while the economic costs of the downturn have drawn the lion’s share of attention, the damage to our bodies could end up far surpassing the damage to our bank accounts.”

Those are the opening lines of a new special report from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), “Failing Economy, Failing Health: The Great Recession’s Toll on Body and Mind,” detailing how poverty and inequality resulting from the economic maelstrom pulled down so many—and what that will mean for public health in the long term.

“Health is a long-run thing, but the methods we use to analyze current data only estimate short-term effects,” says SV Subramanian, HSPH professor of population health and geography. “It may take awhile for the health impact of the Great Recession to kick in, but once it does, it could be dramatic.”

The data is strong on the links between employment and health—people who are unemployed, underemployed or laid off are less healthy and don’t live as long. 

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A 2009 study found that in the 12 months after men lost their jobs in mass layoffs, they saw their chances of dying nearly double. While over time the risk lessened it was still significant two decades later. Another study that same year found that losing a job when a business shuts its doors increases the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no preexisting health conditions while also increasing the risk of new health conditions by 83 percent. The stress of the situation, according to the researchers, heightens the odds of stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and psychiatric problems.

Yet another study, this one in 2010, found that about 4 in 10 Americans with heart disease or diabetes and 1 in 5 with cancer said the stress of the Great Recession made it more difficult to manage their illnesses.

What’s more complex is unearthing the pathways behind why this is the case. The HSPH article outlines some of the mechanisms by which unemployment affects health.

Read more

Apr 28 2014
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Place Matters: Q&A with Brian Smedley, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

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Place Matters is a national initiative of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission it is to improve the lives of African Americans and other people of color through policy analysis and change. The Place Matters initiative was designed to build the capacity of local leaders around the country to identify and improve social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health. Nineteen teams are working in 27 jurisdictions.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with seven Place Matters teams about their ongoing efforts. We will be showcasing their work in a series that begins today with a conversation with Brian Smedley, PHD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute.

NPH: What are some initial steps that a community has to take when making changes in order to impact health?

Brian Smedley: Several things we believe are important, and these are principles that we employ in our Place Matters work. One is first and foremost to start with the very communities that are most affected by economic and political marginalization and that have suffered from disinvestment for years. These are often communities that have the leadership and sources of strength and resiliency to begin to tackle these problems. We believe that engaging with communities; identifying their key concerns; identifying the sources of strength and resiliency in the community; and finding out from the community what their vision is for a healthy and vibrant community are all important first steps for anyone engaged in this kind of work.

We also believe that there’s an important role for research to document the inequitable distribution of health risks and resources, and to show how that often correlates with patterns of residential segregation. We have worked with our Place Matters teams to produce what we call community health equity reports, where we document such issues as where people can buy healthy food; how close polluting industries are to neighborhoods and residential areas; sources of jobs; and neighborhoods that have high levels of poverty concentration. 

Read more

Apr 10 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 10

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HHS Releases Data Giving Consumers Greater Transparency on Costs of Medical Procedures
The U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS) services has released of new, privacy-protected data on services and procedures provided to Medicare beneficiaries by physicians and other health care professionals. The new data—which includes payment and submitted charges, or bills, for those services and procedures by provider—provides consumers with more information on how physicians and other health care professionals practice medicine, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This data will help fill that gap by offering insight into the Medicare portion of a physician’s practice,” she said. “The data released today afford researchers, policymakers and the public a new window into health care spending and physician practice patterns.” The release includes information for more than 880,000 distinct health care providers who collectively received $77 billion in Medicare payments in 2012, under the Medicare Part B Fee-For-Service program. Read more on access to care.

HUD Grants $1.6B to Support 7,100 Local Homeless Housing and Service Programs
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced approximately $1.6 billion in grants to continue support for 7,100 local homeless housing and service programs in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants, which come through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, support programs such as street outreach; client assessment; and direct housing assistance to individuals and families with children who are experiencing homelessness. "Whether it's helping to rapidly re-house families with young children or finding a permanent home for an individual with serious health conditions, HUD is working with our local partners to end homelessness as we know it," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Read more on housing.

Study: Concussion Symptoms May Be Worse For Girls than for Boys
Concussions may have a more severe and longer-lasting effect for girls than they do for boys, according to new research. Shayne Fehr, MD, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, tracked 549 patients who sought treatment at a pediatric concussion clinic, finding that girls on average reported more severe symptoms than boys and needed an additional 22 days to recover (56 days for girls, compared to 34 for boys). Approximately 76 percent of the injuries were sports related and the top five reported symptoms were headache, trouble concentrating, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound and dizziness. More research is needed to determine the cause of the disparity. Read more on injury prevention.

Mar 25 2014
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A Hospital Helps Revitalize the Community Outside Its Walls: Q&A with George Kleb and Christine Madigan

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Over the last few months, NewPublicHealth has reported on initiatives of the participating members of Stakeholder Health, formerly known as the Health Systems Learning Group. Stakeholder Health is a learning collaborative made up of more than 40 organizations, including 36 non-profit health systems that share innovative practices aimed at improving health and economic viability of communities.

>>Read more on the Stakeholder Health effort to leverage health care systems to improve community health.

One Stakeholder Health member is the Bon Secours Baltimore Health System in Maryland, whose Community Works initiative helps improve the lives of the people in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Bon Secours Baltimore is part of a national health system founded by the Sisters of the Order of Bon Secours.

Bon Secours engaged the community before embarking on projects and have created programs aimed at improving the community’s health through services that include the hospital, community clinics and visiting nurse programs, as well as housing, GED and financial literacy programs and revitalization programs.

The ambitious housing program will ultimately provide more than 1,000 units of affordable housing in the streets just around the hospital.

Bon Secours’ partner in its housing program is Enterprise Community Partners Inc., which builds affordable housing throughout the United States. NewPublicHealth recently visited the Bon Secours housing and services sites in Baltimore and spoke with George Kleb, executive director Bon Secours Health System, and Christine Madigan, senior vice president of development at Enterprise Homes. 

NewPublicHealth: When did the housing program begin?

George Kleb: Bon Secours here in Baltimore has been developing and operating housing since 1988. We started by developing a couple of senior buildings through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program. Both buildings had been schools that were part of the surplus capacity in Baltimore. The HUD program serves people who are elderly, disabled, or very low income. There was a clear need and so we pursued that, and that was the start of our reach into housing. Then in the ‘90s we began work on housing really in line with a neighborhood revitalization strategy attached to our presence in the neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore. There was an area of West Baltimore Street, which is the street the hospital is on, that had become largely vacant. Two-thirds of the units in the three blocks leading up to the hospital were empty and we acquired 31 of those buildings and started a project we now call Bon Secours Apartments. We renovated three-story Victorian row homes into affordable apartments, and that’s when we started working with Enterprise. That’s a relationship that goes back to the mid-1990s.

Read more

Mar 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 20

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Study: School Hearing Tests Cannot Detect Adolescent High-Frequency Hearing Loss
School-administered hearing tests cannot detect the sort of adolescent high-frequency hearing loss associated with exposure to loud noises, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Screening. Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine compared the results for 282 11th graders of a special hearing screening designed to detect noise-related high-frequency hearing loss with the results of the standard Pennsylvania school hearing test. Each tests for the ability to hear a tone at a specific loudness. "More participants failed the initial screening than we predicted," said study author Deepa Sekhar, assistant professor of pediatrics, in a release, "Even with the effort and care put in by school nurses across the state, the current Pennsylvania school screen just isn't designed to detect high-frequency hearing loss in adolescents," adding "The results of this study have the potential to reach schools across the nation, as many use screens similar to those used in Pennsylvania schools." Read more on pediatrics.

HUD Gives $1.8B to Support 3,100 Public Housing Authorities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded almost $1.8 billion to approximately 3,100 public housing authorities across all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants, which come through HUD’s Capital Fund Program, will go toward building, repairing, renovating and modernizing public housing, from large scale improvements such as replacing roofs or smaller tasks such as energy-efficient upgrades. “This funding is critically important to public housing agencies as they work to provide the best housing possible for their residents,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. There are 1.1 million public housing units in the United States. Read more on housing.

New Heart Health Guidelines Would Increase Adults Eligible for Statins to 12.8M
New guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (ACC–AHA) for the treatment of cholesterol would increase the number of adults who would be eligible for statin therapy by 12.8 million, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Roughly half of the U.S. population between 40 and 75 years of age—or 56 million people—would be eligible. Most of the increase would be among older adults without cardiovascular disease. Read more on heart health.

Mar 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 6

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Facebook Makes Changes to Combat Illegal Gun Sales
Facing mounting pressure from groups such as Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Mons Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Facebook yesterday announced plans to remove offers to sell guns without background checks or across state lines. The social media site will being notifying users offering such sales of relevant laws a limit visibility of certain firearm-related posts to users ages 18 and older. Searchers for firearms on Facebook-owned Instagram will also return information on gun laws. The system will rely on users to report violating posts. "We will respond to posts that signal attempts to evade the law so we can delete them," said an AOL spokesman, according to The Wall Street Journal. Read more on violence.

Revamped SAT Designed to Increase Access to College
After only nine years using the “new” format, the College Board has announced changes to the SAT designed to focus the test more on important academic skills and increase access to college. In addition to making the essay section optional—which will put a perfect score back at 1600, from the 2400 of the past few years—the revised test will remove the penalty for incorrect answers or guessing and cut the more obscure vocabulary words. College Board President David Coleman said the changes were needed because the test had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.” Coleman also announced fee waivers to low-income students who will now be able to apply to four colleges at no charge, according to The New York Times. Read more on education.

HUD Announces Funding to Provide Permanent Housing and Services to Low-Income People with Disabilities 
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) today announced the availability of approximately $120 million in funding for state housing agencies to provide long term project-based rental assistance to extremely low-income persons with disabilities, many of whom are transitioning out of institutional settings or are at high risk of homelessness. State housing agencies will be working with state Medicaid and Health and Human Service offices to identify, refer and conduct outreach to persons with disabilities who require long-term services and supports to live independently. Read more on housing.

Jan 2 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 2

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NIH: 10 Percent of Driving Time Spent Distracted by Secondary Tasks
About 10 percent of an average driver’s time behind the wheel is spent engaged in something besides focusing on the road, which is especially dangerous for younger drivers, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Common distractions include eating, reaching for a phone, texting, or simply taking their eyes off the road. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Virginia Tech used video technology and in-vehicle sensors to determine their findings. “Anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road can be dangerous,” said study co-author Bruce Simons-Morton, EdD, MPH, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute where the study was conducted. “But our study shows these distracting practices are especially risky for novice drivers, who haven’t developed sound safety judgment behind the wheel.” The study found that novice drivers were:

  • Eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when dialing
  • Seven to eight times more likely to crash or have a near miss when reaching for a phone or other object,
  • Almost four times more likely to crash or have a near miss when texting, and
  • Three times more likely to crash or have a near miss when eating.

Read more on transportation.

Study: Tripling Global Tobacco Taxes Could Prevent 200M Premature Deaths
Tripling the taxes on tobacco could prevent 200 million premature deaths worldwide while dramatically cutting into the total number of smokers, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Approximately 1.3 billion people smoke; tobacco currently kills about 6 million people per year, with that total expected to climb to more than 8 million by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. To support their findings, scientists from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) pointed to success in France, where raising taxes well above inflation reduced smoking by half from 1990 to 2005. "The two certainties in life are death and taxes. We want higher tobacco taxes and fewer tobacco deaths," said Richard Peto, the CRUK epidemiologist who led the study. "It would help children not to start, and it would help many adults to stop while there's still time." Read more on tobacco.

HUD Grants to Help Families Get Access to Education, Job Training, Employment
This week the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded approximately $57 million in grants as part of its Housing Choice Voucher Program, which will go toward helping residents gain access to education, job training and employment. The grants will be used to hire or retain more than one thousand service coordinators who will work to connect the families with the supportive services. “This is a modest investment that can make a world of difference for families looking to find their path to self-sufficiency,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “As America’s economy continues to recover, it’s critical that we work to make sure every American has the skills and resources they need to successfully compete for jobs in the 21st Century.” Under the program, participants sign a five-year contract requiring the head of the household to obtain employment and no longer receive welfare assistance by the end of the contract. Read more on housing.