Category Archives: Faces of Public Health

Dec 17 2012
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Faces of Public Health: James Rimmer, PHD

file James Rimmer, PHD

Last year, a new center to help promote physical activity among individuals with disabilities opened at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. NewPublicHealth spoke with James Rimmer, PhD, the center’s director, who has spent decades promoting the importance of people who are disabled engaging in physical activity for both their health and for fun.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the new center.

Rimmer: When I moved here from the University of Illinois/Chicago, there was a large donation made to support the needs of people with disabilities in all areas of physical activity, sport and recreation, by the Lakeshore Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides health and fitness services to people with disabilities. They brought me in to build an enterprise between the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the foundation, which is called the UAB Lakeshore Research Collaborative. Subsumed under that are two national centers that have been funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The first center is the National Center Health, Physical Activity and Disability. The second center is the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center.

NPH: You have been working in this field for decades. What will be new about your initiatives and efforts in 2013?

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Nov 21 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Irene Pollin

file Irene Pollin, Sister to Sister

What’s the right age to be an advocate for better health? “It’s never too late but the younger you start the longer you have,” says Irene Pollin, MSW, PhD (Hon), who has done so all her life and runs Sister to Sister, the organization she founded in memory of her daughter, Linda Joy, who died at age 16 of a heart condition. Pollin, who together with her husband, Abe, owned sports teams including the Washington Wizards basketball team and the Washington Capitals hockey team, aims to increase women’s awareness of heart disease, provide free cardiac screenings, and empower women to take charge of their health. As the nation’s largest provider of free heart disease screenings for women, Sister to Sister has traveled to nearly 20 U.S. cities and screened over 100,000 women since its start in 1999.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Irene Pollin recently about her work, heart disease, the success of the foundation, and its message that although heart disease takes the lives of one in three women, it is preventable and even reversible.

NewPublicHealth: Would you tell us about Sister to Sister?

Irene Pollin: We started more than 12 years ago, and at the time, I was working in the area of chronic illness. I’m a psychiatric social worker and had been doing that for 25 years so I really was a specialist in all chronic illnesses. When I was speaking to a health PR firm, I learned that heart disease was the number one killer of women. I didn’t know that, and I couldn’t believe it. So I thought ‘If I don’t know it, who else doesn’t know it?’ The person who informed me of this fact challenged me and asked if I would be interested in doing the work with her to get the word out. So I accepted the challenge and established Sister to Sister.

NPH: How does your training as a psychiatric social worker impact your work? 

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Aug 24 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Rochelle Sobel

Faces of Public Health is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth featuring individuals working on the front lines of public health and helping keep people healthy and safe.

Rochelle Sobel, Association for Safe International Road Travel Rochelle Sobel, Association for Safe International Road Travel

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 1.3 million people are killed and 20 to 50 million are injured in car crashes around the world. Most of the crashes happen in low- or middle-income countries, and 25,000 of the deaths are among tourists. In fact, nearly half of medical evacuations back to the United States, which can cost $100,000 or more, are the result of a car crash.

According to the CDC, reasons for an increase in crashes in foreign countries include:

  • More people driving cars and other motorized vehicles
  • Poorly maintained roads
  • Insufficient traffic laws and poor enforcement in some countries
  • Insufficient emergency response capabilities in some countries

Rochelle Sobel knows the worst possible outcome of these crashes first hand. She founded the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) in 1995, after her son, Aron, was killed in a bus crash in Turkey along with 22 other passengers from many countries, just two weeks before his graduation from the University of Maryland Medical School. The bus Aron was traveling on was speeding down the wrong lane of a narrow, poorly maintained road with no guard rail. The bus hit oncoming traffic and plunged down an embankment, landing on its side. Emergency medical crews were slow to respond, likely a factor in at least some of the deaths. After the crash the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey recommended the creation of a road safety organization to protect both American citizens abroad and residents of countries around the world.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Rochelle Sobel about ASIRT.

NewPublicHealth: ASIRT was started out of personal tragedy, the loss of your son Aron, in a bus crash in Turkey. How did you get started?

Rochelle Sobel: The first thing I did was talk to the U.S. embassy in Ankara, and I asked them if they could please tell me when such crashes occur again, and they said, “Mrs. Sobel, we’d be calling you constantly.” That led me to understand that this is indeed a health issue that was not getting the kind of public attention that it deserved. So I started to call different organizations, and unfortunately, it was not yet recognized as a health issue. So we decided to become the organization that would bring attention to the issue. We got help from the embassy; we got a lot of help from the State Department. We asked the State Department to start collecting data on the numbers of Americans who die abroad in road crashes by country, and they discovered that it was the single greatest cause of death for healthy Americans traveling abroad.

NPH:  Is that still the case?

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Aug 21 2012
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Charles Stokes: Faces of Public Health

Charles Stokes, CDC Foundation Charles Stokes, CDC Foundation

Faces of Public Health is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth featuring individuals working on the front lines of public health and helping keep people healthy and safe.

The CDC Foundation, established by Congress in 1995, connects the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with private-sector foundations, corporations, organizations and individuals to help build public health programs. Since its inception, the CDC Foundation has provided $350 million to support CDC’s work and launched more than 600 programs around the world. The support is typically financial, but also can include expertise, information or leadership.

One key initiative from the Foundation, in partnership with CDC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was the Meta-Leadership Summit for Preparedness—a model approach for bringing communities together to improve emergency preparedness and build community resilience. From 2006 through 2011, initiative partners organized and hosted 36 Summits across the country, training 5,000 business, government and nonprofit leaders in meta-leadership concepts. While the initiative has concluded, the Meta-Leadership Summit Resource Centerprovides resources to help communities initiate or continue meta-leadership activities.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Charles Stokes, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation, about the Foundation’s partnerships and successes, including those around meta-leadership and more.

NewPublicHealth: What kind of work did you do before becoming president and CEO of the CDC Foundation?

Charles Stokes: For the prior 22 years, I worked with the Missouri state department of health. The last 10 of those I was deputy director or acting director of the state health agency. In that role I had the opportunity to chair an American Public Health Association workgroup that developed Healthy Communities 2000: Model Standards where we set model goals and objectives for state and local health departments to use in reaching the national goals ofHealthy People 2000. That connected me with CDC.

NPH: What was the impetus behind the creation of the CDC Foundation?

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Aug 14 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Elizabeth Clark on Social Workers and Military Mental Health

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Faces of Public Health is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth featuring individuals working on the front lines of public health and helping keep people healthy and safe.

Returning veterans and their families continue to face mental health problems linked to injuries, time away from loved ones and the stress of being at war. Military suicides are at an all-time high; recent reports show a heartbreaking one suicide a day since the beginning of 2012.

The Department of Defense and mental health professional organizations are actively promoting and creating initiatives to help service personnel, veterans and their family. A new program just announced by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) will add hundreds of thousands of trained personnel for the military-affiliated individuals keenly in need. The NASW military program will create free continuing education opportunities for all social workers, regardless of practice area or focus, on the critical issues related to the care, culture and lifestyle of military personnel, veterans and military families. According to the NASW, the initiative adds more than 650,000 social workers to the ranks of mental health professionals trained to meet the needs of service men and women, veterans and military families.

Social workers are hardly new to the military. According to the NASW, social workers have been serving veterans since 1926, when the first social work program was established in the Veterans Bureau (now the Department of Veterans Affairs). Currently, the VA is the largest employer of master’s-degreed social workers in the nation with over 9,000 social workers. Social workers also serve in and work for the Air Force, Army and Navy in clinical, administrative and research posts.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Elizabeth Clark, PhD, ACSW, MPH, executive director of the association, about the mental health needs of military personnel, veterans and families and the critical help social workers can provide.

NewPublicHealth: Why are social workers such an important component to the mental health professional needs of the military?

Elizabeth Clark: There are more social workers than psychiatrists and psychologists and nurse practitioners clinically trained to work in mental health, combined. We have a tremendous workforce and they’re all over the country, in communities across the United States.

NPH: Are mental health issues of service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan different from issues returning military members faced previously?

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Aug 3 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Richard Traum

Non-profit Achilles International connects physically and mentally disabled individuals with able-bodied amateur athletes to help build physical strength and confidence through their sense of accomplishment, which often impacts other parts of their lives. Since its start in the 1970′s, Achilles has also added training programs for children and disabled veterans. Achilles Kids provides training, racing opportunities, and an in-school program for children with disabilities; the Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans program brings running programs and marathon opportunities to disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Richard Traum, Achilles’ founder, says sports are simply the tool for accomplishing the group’s main objective: to bring hope, inspiration and the joys of achievement to people with disabilities.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Richard Traum about the organization and its accomplishments over the years.

NewPublicHealth:  How did Achilles get started?

Richard Traum:  In 1976, as an above the knee amputee, I ran in the New York City Marathon on my artificial leg. I didn’t know it at that time, but I became the first amputee to run that kind of a distance. In 1982 we started the Achilles Track Club, which was an eight week course to encourage people with disabilities to participate in long distance running and after the eight week program was over, the question was what do we do next? And the thought was move it from a course to a track club and that’s how Achilles got started, which was in January of 1983.

NPH: Tell us a bit about the mission.

Richard Traum: Well, the mission is really to help people with all types of disabilities to participate in sports with a particular focus on running in the mainstream environment. What we do most is have disabled people participate in marathons. I’ve always felt that it was very important for people with disabilities to integrate with people who aren’t disabled. One reason is that if you are disabled, it makes you feel more comfortable in the able-bodied community, but it also works in the other direction—people who are not disabled increase their comfort level by seeing folks who are disabled competing with them in a sport.

NPH: What are some of the successes?

Richard Traum: Well, one is Donald Arthur. Donald had a heart transplant and he joined us shortly thereafter. He started to work out and he built up to doing a marathon and as he progressed, he would send the t-shirts to his doctor who would then send them to the family of the heart donor. He eventually did the marathon, sent his medal to the family and told them that their son’s heart had just done a marathon. The next year, Donald ran with a brother of the donor and during the last several years, Donald has done several marathons a year in different states; to focus awareness on organ donation.

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Jul 27 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Richard Kogan, MD

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve

About twenty percent of students who apply to the Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City are gifted musically, ranging from strong amateurs to students who have trained at conservatories. Giving students a chance to keep up with their music, and discover what benefits that might have for their patients, was the impetus behind the school’s Music and Medicine Initiative, begun several years ago. The initiative includes rehearsal and performance space for students, as well as some partnerships devoted to music and healing. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Richard Kogan, director of the Music and Medicine Initiative, and himself an accomplished concert pianist.

NewPublicHealth: What’s the goal of the Music and Medicine Initiative?

Richard Kogan: Our original mission was to create the most musician friendly medical center in the country, but we’ve extended it well beyond the students. We want the entire community to feel that music is an essential part of the experience. Our feeling is that music is an underutilized modality in healing. Music has an unparalleled; truly, I think capacity to reduce pain, to soothe anxiety, to lift spirits. Music is an effective medicine for a whole variety of disorders, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, strokes, depression, it can reduce blood pressure. Research is being done that I think demonstrates something we intuitively sense, which is that music has healing properties.

And in addition to forming an affiliation with the Julliard Conservatory of Music in New York City–students at Julliard and our Weill Cornell students and other members of the Weill Cornell community have together hosted concerts to benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti and to benefit the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan–we’ve had symposia and salons on topics bettering the interface between music and medicine. Topics have included performance anxiety, and perfect pitch.

NPH:  What do you think is the intersection between music and medicine?

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May 4 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Earl Dotter

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Dozens of haunting photographs of Americans working at hazardous jobs are currently on display at the David J. Sencer Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s main campus in Atlanta. Called The Quiet Sickness, the exhibit shows just some of the photographs of Americans at work by award-winning photojournalist Earl Dotter. The photographs are drawn from Dotter’s decades-long trove of photographs of workers in industries that can be hazardous, even deadly, including mining, fishing, agriculture and construction. Louise Shaw, the curator for the CDC exhibit, says Mr. Dotter has “put a human face on those who labor in dangerous and unhealthy conditions over a wide range of occupations across the United States. Collectively, [the photographs] make the case for protecting the health of all working people, as well as speak to the dignity and self-respect of the individual worker in America.” NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Earl Dotter about his work.

NewPublicHealth: What has been the main focus of your work during your career as a photojournalist?

Earl Dotter: In 1969 I volunteered to become a Vista volunteer, after attending the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and was stationed in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. That was a landmark year in coal mine safety and health because of the Farmington mine disaster which killed 78 miners, and resulted in the creation of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Occupational Health Safety Administration (OSHA). I was rubbing shoulders with coal miners who were sick with black lung disease, and in those days a coal miner was killed just about every other day. That, along with my art background, gave me an opportunity to begin what has become my life’s work. I started taking photographs during the war on poverty era and that time period was a formative one for me because I was getting to know coal miners and other subjects of my photography in a personal way. The pictures began to have a personal style to them. I was looking at individuals, not subjects. Real people I had come to know and that began to inform what I was doing in a personal way. When people view my images, I hope they can see themselves in those individuals. You may see common ground with someone who is seeking to become all they can be even if they have obstacles, or have not yet succeeded.

NPH: Why is it important to see ourselves?

Earl Dotter: If you can establish common ground, I think that can be a motivating force. It can give you the impetus to take a second look, to not pass by the images. And in that way these individuals who work to build our country command the attention of the viewer in a more personal way.

NPH: The Quiet Sickness has been exhibited before. What is that back story?

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Mar 19 2012
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Faces of Public Health: Henry Spiller, Director, Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center

March 18-24 is the 50th anniversary of National Poison Prevention Week. More than 2 million poisonings are reported each year to the 57 poison control centers across the country.

In 1972, more than 200 children in the U.S. died as a result of poisoning. By 2007, that number dropped to 39. However, deaths in other age groups have risen dramatically and poisoning is the leading cause of death from unintentional injuries in the United States—ahead of motor vehicle crashes and guns.

New poisons, like bath salts, keep emerging, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Tips to prevent poisonings include:

  • Store your medicines in a place that is too high for a child to reach or see.
  • Use only rat and mouse control household products that are contained in a tamper-resistant bait station (not loose bait and pellets), to protect children from exposure to the bait.
  • Ask houseguests and visitors to keep purses, bags or coats that have medicines in them up and away and out of sight when they are in your home.
  • Keep cleaning supplies and medicines locked up and away from children.
  • Call your local poison center right away if a battery is missing from a toy or other household item. A swallowed button battery can be deadly for a child.
  • Keep the national Poison Help Line phone number posted in a prominent place in your house and stored in your cell phone. The number is 800-222-1222 and connects you to your local poison center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
  • Download the iPhone app from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

In observance of National Poison Prevention Week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Henry Spiller, MS, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center.

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Mar 6 2012
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Bill Beckner, National Recreation and Park Association: Faces of Public Health

file Bill Beckner, National Recreation and Park Association

As the weather gets warmer, parks departments across the country are beginning to ready pools, pavements and pathways for their community residents, many of them simply adding another set of offerings to the fall classes and leagues. The Denver Parks and Recreation Department, for example, offers adaptive fitness classes for people with disabilities as well as a host of other fitness classes including yoga, martial arts and a weekly drop-in basketball game. Parks and recreation departments have long had a history of a commitment to social change and physical fitness in the United States. NewPublicHealth spoke with Bill Beckner, research director of the National Recreation and Park Association about projects and changes within the departments and the communities they have served for more than 100 years.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us a bit about the history of parks and recreation departments.

Bill Beckner: Well, the actual start of the park and recreation movement goes back to the 1800s in the inner cities, which were seeing a great deal of crime and disease and rising numbers of orphans. Settlement houses provided health, social and recreational services including playgrounds. The American Playground Association, a precursor to our organization, formed in 1906 and promoted the idea of giving children healthy outlooks, healthy conditions, air, parks and greenery, which was so different from the environment many of them lived in.

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