Category Archives: Health disparities

Sep 22 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 22

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UPDATE: Sierra Leone Ends Three-Day Lockdown, Reports 130 New Cases
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Officials in Sierra Leone have ended a three-day curfew designed to help contain the continuing spread of the Ebola virus, calling the effort a success. Authorities reported 130 new cases during the lockdown and are waiting for tests on 39 more people. The West African country has been one of the hardest hit by the outbreak—more than 550 of the nearly 2,800 total deaths have been in Sierra Leone. In addition more than 100 tons of health-related supplies are being flown to Sierra Leone and Liberia. They include gloves, masks, gowns, goggles, saline, antibiotics, oral rehydration solution and painkillers. "We must do all we can to reduce further the human tragedy caused by this deadly outbreak and help communities avoid an even deeper setback than has occurred already," said Chief Executive Thomas Tighe of Direct Relief, according to USA Today. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Medicare Patients Less Likely to Receive Post-Stroke Surgery
Despite the fact that it can significantly help recovery and reduce the risk of long-term disability or even death, a common post-stroke surgical treatment is far less likely to be referred by physicians of patients with Medicare, according to a new study in the journal PLOS One. Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) analyzed data on more than 21,000 adult patients discharged from 2003 to 2008 with a diagnosis of subarachnoid hemorrhage, finding that—when compared to patients with private insurance—Medicare patients were almost 45 percent less likely to receive surgery and were more than twice as likely to die in the hospital. Azra Bihorac, MD, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of anesthesiology, medicine and surgery at the UF College of Medicine, said the results could indicate a conscious or unconscious bias. “Not every hospital has skilled neurosurgeons who specialize in subarachnoid hemorrhage,” he said in a release. “If these hospitals don’t have the necessary expertise, then they may actually overestimate the risk of a bad prognosis. They may assume that the patient won’t do well anyway, so they won’t proceed with surgery.” Read more on access to care.

Study: Weekly Text Reminders about Calories Help People Make Healthier Choices
Something as simple as a weekly text reminder may help U.S. adults develop a better understanding of basic nutrition and make healthier food choices, according to a new study in Health Promotion Practice. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health sent either a weekly text message reminder, a weekly email reminder, or no weekly reminder about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation of a reasonable daily caloric intake—2,000 calories—to 246 participants dining in the Johns Hopkins Hospital cafeteria. They found that at the beginning of the study approximately 58 percent knew the recommended benchmark, but after four weeks the participants who received texts were twice as likely to know the benchmark. “While daily energy needs vary, the 2,000-calorie value provides a general frame of reference that can make menu and product nutrition labels more meaningful,” said study leader Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, in a release. “When people know their calorie ‘budget’ for the day, they have context for making healthier meal and snack choices.” Read more on nutrition.

Sep 11 2014
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For the Homeless, a Place to Call Home After a Hospital Stay

A comment period has just opened, through September 30, on proposed minimum standards for medical respite centers for the homeless. Medical respite centers provide an indoor, supported home where discharged homeless hospital patients can convalesce instead of immediately returning to the street.

Experts on homelessness says strong standards and compliance with them can result in not just reducing hospital readmission for discharged homeless patients, but also an increase in permanent housing solutions for people who entered the hospital without a place to call home. In fact, about 80 percent of homeless people who enter a respite facility move onto housing options instead of back to the street, according to Sabrina Eddington, director of special projects at the National Health Care for the Homeless Council (NHCHC).

Medical Respite Centers Location of medical respite centers in the United States

Eddington says that having the standards in place is critical. An estimated 150,000 people who have no permanent address are discharged from the hospital each year, based on state estimates. Going back to the street can mean reinfection, hospital readmission and an inability to keep up with care, such as daily medication that could improve, stabilize and even cure both physical and emotional health problems.

Medical respite care centers range from free-standing centers to sections of homeless shelters, and even vouchers for motels and hotels with home visits by medical and social support staff.

The proposed minimum standards were published on September 1 and a comment period runs through September 30. The NHCHC will hold a webinar tomorrow, September 12, from 1-2:30 EST. Click here to register.

The goals of the guidelines for the respite care centers are to:

  • Align with other health industry standards related to patient care
  • Represent the needs of the patients being served in the medical respite centers.
  • Promote quality care and improved health
  • Create standards for a range of respite center types with varying degrees of resources

NHCHC has dozens of stories about previously homeless patients who were discharged to medical respite care and are now living in stable housing, often with no need for hospital readmission. Take Ahmed. After losing his family and business, Ahmed moved to the street, where he struggled with alcoholism and depression. In 2005, Ahmed had a stroke and was hospitalized. Following discharge he was back on the street until an outreach team brought him to a medical respite program, where he was medically stabilized; received help for his depression; and referred to a program that specializes in treating co-occurring mental illness and addiction. Ahmed is now in supportive housing and participating in a recovery program. He continues to visit his primary care clinic and psychiatrist and has not been hospitalized since the stroke occurred.

There are now dozens of medical respite facilities throughout the community, and NHCHC is hopeful about expanding the models.

“We advocate that medical respite services be available in all communities serving homeless clients,” said Eddington.

Earlier this summer, NHCHC was one of 39 Health Care Innovation Award recipients announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The $2.6 million award is administered by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and will be used to demonstrate improved health outcomes and reduced spending when homeless patients have access to medical respite care following a hospital stay. The three-year project will test a model that will provide medical respite care for homeless Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, following discharge from a hospital, with the goal of improving health, reducing readmissions and reducing costs.

>>Bonus Links:

Sep 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 4

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EBOLA UPDATE: WHO Says More than $600M Needed to Combat the Ebola Outbreak
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Approximately $600 million in supplies is needed to combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), while Canadian health officials continue to work on a way to transport an experimental treatment to the affected area. "We are now working with the WHO to address complex regulatory, logistical and ethical issues so that the vaccine can be safely and ethically deployed as rapidly as possible," said Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton, in a statement. "For example, the logistics surrounding the safe delivery of the vaccine are complicated." More than 1,900 people have died in the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

RWJF, TFAH Report Finds State Obesity Rates Continue to Remain High
Adult obesity rates continue to be high across the country, with rates increasing in six states and decreasing in none over the past year, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The report, The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, found that rates climbed in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming. Mississippi and West Virginia have the highest rates, at 35.1 percent, and no state has a rate below 21 percent. “Obesity in America is at a critical juncture. Obesity rates are unacceptably high, and the disparities in rates are profoundly troubling,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, in a release. “We need to intensify prevention efforts starting in early childhood, and do a better job of implementing effective policies and programs in all communities—so every American has the greatest opportunity to have a healthy weight and live a healthy life.” Read more on obesity.

Study: Women Are Underrepresented in Surgical Research
A review of more than 600 studies in five major surgical journals found that males are vastly overrepresented, calling into question how the findings will translate for female patients.  The journals— Annals of SurgeryAmerican Journal of Surgery, JAMA SurgeryJournal of Surgical Research and Surgery—responded by announcing they will now require study authors to report the sex of animals and cells in their research, or to explain why only one sex was analyzed. "Women make up half the population, but in surgical literature, 80 percent of the studies only use males," study senior author Melina Kibbe, MD, professor of surgical research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a release. "We need to do better and provide basic research on both sexes to ultimately improve treatments for male and female patients.” The study appeared in the journal Surgery. Read more on health disparities.

Aug 12 2014
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Recommended Reading: New Technology Helps Improve Patient and Provider Communications

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Better communication means better patient engagement, and better patient engagement means better health outcomes. Understanding this, Sense Health has developed an app to promote interactive, text-message-based communications between health care professionals and high-needs patients. Stan Berkow, CEO of the New York City-based company, said in a recent interview with AlleyWatch that the focus thus far has been on Medicaid patients with chronic conditions because they represent “an underserved population with a huge unmet need both considering the human element as well as the cost-burden.”

The app allows providers to create message-based conversations tailored to the particular needs of their patients. In a two-month randomized control trial with Montefiore Medical Center, which included 67 high-needs patients and 15 care managers, providers saw a 40 percent increase in self-reported patient adherence to appointments, a 12 percent increase in adherence to medications and a 7 percent increase in adherence to care plan goals.

“Our business is built on our belief that it is not only possible, but essential to personalize healthcare through the use of technology,” said Berkow. “The prevention and management of chronic health conditions requires behavior change, something that technology alone cannot provide. Sense Health is amongst those who realize that technology in health works best when there is a human touch behind the system and patients feel supported by their providers.”

The company recently joined the New York Digital Health Accelerator, which offers up to $100,000 in funding to companies engaged in developing digital health solutions. The accelerator is run by the Partnership Fund for New York City and the New York eHealth Collaborative.

Read the full interview at AlleyWatch.

 

Aug 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 12

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EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll at 1,013 as Two More Doctors are Set to Receive an Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Two more Ebola-infected doctors are set to receive the experimental ZMapp drug that was given to two American health workers and a Spanish priest. The Americans continue to receive treatment in an Atlanta hospital, while the 75-year-old missionary died early this morning. The death toll of the West African outbreak—the largest Ebola outbreak in history—now stands at 1,013, according to the World Health Organization. Read more on Ebola.

FDA Approves New Colorectal Screening Test
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first stool-based colorectal screening test to identify cancers such as colon cancer or precursors to cancer. The test can detect red blood cells and DNA mutations that can indicate certain types of abnormal growths. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among those that affect both men and women, and regular screening tests for all people ages 50 and older could reduce related deaths by at least 60 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This approval offers patients and physicians another option to screen for colorectal cancer,” said Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a release. “Fecal blood testing is a well-established screening tool and the clinical data showed that the test detected more cancers than a commonly used fecal occult test.” Read more on cancer.

Study: Women, Blacks Affected Most by Heart Disease and Stroke
Women and African-Americans are affected the most by chronic diseases linked to increased risk of heart attack or stroke, according to a new population-based study in the journal Circulation. Researchers analyzed the five major risk factors for heart disease—high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes—in more than 13,500 Americans from 1987 to 1998, finding that while the combined risk for women dropped from 68 percent to 58 percent, it was still higher than the risk for men, which dropped from 51 percent to 48 percent. The study also found that diabetes more than doubled the risk of heart disease for African-Americans when compared to whites—28 percent versus 13 percent. Researchers said the difference could be because heart disease has been traditionally viewed as a disease of white men, affecting how it is treated. Read more on health disparities.

Aug 11 2014
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High-Quality Care in Low-Income Communities: Q&A with Steven Weingarten, Vital Healthcare Capital

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Vital Healthcare Capital (V-Cap) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) have announced a $10 million investment in Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA), based in Boston, Mass., to help fund the organization as it rapidly expands its model of care for patients who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.

The non-profit care delivery system provides integrated health care and related social support services for people with complex health care needs covered under Medicaid and for those eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. CCA’s expansion comes as Massachusetts continues to pioneer integrated, patient-centered care for people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid though the newly created “One Care: MassHealth plus Medicare” program, one of several financial alignment initiatives for people with dual eligibility established by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that are launching nationwide.

The loan—the first to be made by Vital Healthcare Capital, a new social impact fund based in Boston, through support from RWJF—provides funds needed by CCA for financial reserves required by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as the agency expands the number of beneficiaries in its programs.

According to CCA Director Robert Master, the social impact goals are to:

  • Scale a person-centered integrated care model for high-needs populations.
  • Demonstrate what are known in public health as “triple aim” outcomes in health status, care metrics and cost effectiveness.
  • Train, develop and create frontline health care workforce jobs, including health aides, drivers and translators.
  • Create innovations in health care workforce engagement in coordinated care plans to better integrate into the care plan the staff members who most directly touch the lives of its members.

Over the next five years, Vital Healthcare Capital plans to establish a $100 million revolving loan fund, leveraging $500 million of total project capital for organizations working on health care reform for patients in low-income communities.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Steven Weingarten, CEO of Vital Healthcare Capital, about the inaugural loan and the firm’s expansion plans going forward.

NewPublicHealth: How did Vital Healthcare Capital get started and what are its overarching goals and investment criteria?

Steven Weingarten: Vital Healthcare Capital has been formed as a new non-profit financing organization to invest in quality health care and good health care jobs in low-income communities. The organization came about after a couple of years of research and development with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as well as from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and support from SEIU, the health care union. Healthcare reform is really part of a broader restructuring of health care that has enormous implications for low-income communities, and for the health care providers and plans that have been focused on these communities. Having financial capital to be able to transform health care to a better delivery model will be a critical challenge in upcoming years. So we are coming in to serve that need.

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Jul 23 2014
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From Flyers to Tweets to Apps, Food Programs are Looking for Hungry Kids this Summer

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While more than 30 million children receive free or reduced-cost meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program during the school year, only about 3 million of those kids sign on for summer meals through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, according to agency statistics. While not all 30 million need the summer meals—many are enrolled in summer programs that offer food or have parents that are able to take responsibility for providing meals—USDA and hunger experts know that millions are going hungry each summer, impacting their day-to-day lives, the learning gains of the previous year and learning readiness for the next grade.

“Most of the reason eligible kids aren’t getting meals in the summer is simply because parents don’t know about them,” said Audrey Rowe, head of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which runs the meal programs.

Last year, USDA made increasing the number of kids getting summer meals (sites typically serve one meal and a snack or two meals) a top priority, according to a the report Summer Doesn’t Take a Vacation, published by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit aimed at ending child hunger. According to the report, the summer of 2013 marked the first major increase in the number of low-income children eating sponsored summer meals in 10 years, and the program grew last year to serve nearly three million children, an increase of 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012. This represents the largest percentage increase since 2003.

To reach those increases, the USDA worked with organizations including FRAC, Feeding America, Share Our Strength, the YMCA and other national, state and local stakeholders to target states with high rates of poverty, food insecurity and low participation rates in summer food programs. Efforts ran from high-level conversations with state governors—some of whom had known nothing about summer meal programs—to dozens of webinars to teach officials and private partners the nuts and bolts of running the programs. For example, sites are eligible in communities where more than half the area children receive subsidized school meals. 

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Jul 17 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 17

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Study: Common Asthma Treatment Suppresses Growth in Children
A common treatment for asthma may suppress growth in children, according to a new review of two studies that was published in The Cochrane Library journal. The studies included 45 trials on corticosteroid drugs, which are delivered via inhalers to both children and adults with asthma and generally used as first-line treatments for persistent asthma. "The evidence... suggests that children treated daily with inhaled corticosteroids may grow approximately half a centimeter less during the first year of treatment," said Linjie Zhang at the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, according to Reuters. "But this effect is less pronounced in subsequent years, is not cumulative, and seems minor compared to the known benefits of the drugs for controlling asthma." The World Health Organization estimates that there are approximately 235 million people living with asthma. Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Busiest ERs Often Provide the Best Care
People with life-threatening emergencies have better odds of survival when treated at busier emergency departments, according to a new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The study found that patients admitted to a hospital after an emergency had a 10 percent lower chance of dying in the hospital if they initially went to one of the nation's busiest emergency departments; that people with sepsis had a 26 percent lower death rate at the busiest emergency centers; and that lung failure patients had a 22 percent lower death rate. The researchers behind the study estimate that if all emergency patients received the level of care provided by the busiest emergency departments then approximately 24,000 fewer people would die each year. "It's too early to say that based on these results, patients and first responders should change their decision about which hospital to choose in an emergency," said Keith Kocher, MD, MPH, the lead author of the new study and a University of Michigan Health System emergency physician, in a release. "But the bottom line is that emergency departments and hospitals perform differently, there really are differences in care and they matter." Read more on health disparities.

HHS: $11M Toward Integrating HIV Services into Primary Care
As part of the ongoing National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is making $11 million available for the integration of HIV services into primary care services in Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York. The funds will go toward innovative partnerships between health centers and those states’ health departments. They are part of Partnerships for Care: Health Departments and Health Centers Collaborating to Improve HIV Health Outcomes, a multi-agency project that includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Jul 11 2014
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Recommended Reading: A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco

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There are an estimated 7,350 homeless people living in San Francisco, yet there are only eight facilities in the city at which the homeless can shower. At each of these facilities, there are at most two shower stalls—meaning that there is at most one shower for every 460 homeless people.

Lava Mae developed a mobile approach to target this public health issue.

The refurbished San Francisco MUNI bus outfitted with two full-service bathrooms successfully made its first rounds on June 28. The bus will travel around the city providing the homeless with mobile public utilities and giving them much-needed access to clean water and sanitation. Without the limitations of stationary locations, Lava Mae is able to aide people across the city while also staying free from high real estate prices, rising rent and potential eviction.

"For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city's anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy," wrote Rachel Swan in a piece on public bathrooms in SF Weekly. Lava Mae founder Doniece Sandoval hopes that the program will take big steps in improving the health of the homeless and public sanitation by increasing the number and scope of available public restrooms.

The relationship between the health and wellbeing of the homeless population correlates directly with the health of the community as a whole. As the homeless population strives for a better quality of life, so does the community—one shower at a time.

Read the full story, “A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco.”

Jul 8 2014
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Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report: Q&A with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, CASA de Maryland

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Late last month several organizations in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland—including CASA de Maryland, the Urban Institute, Prince George’s County Public Schools and other Langley Park Promise Neighborhood partners—released the Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report, a year-long community assessment supported by the U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods program.

The assessment found that few of Langley Park’s 3,700 children—nearly all of whom were born in the United States—are currently on track for a strong future and that their lives are severely impacted by poverty; poor access to health care; high rates of neighborhood crime; chronic housing instability and school mobility; and low levels of parent education and English proficiency. Fewer than half of the community’s children graduate high school in four years, often because of high rates of early pregnancy and early entry into the work force to help support their families.

Following the release of the report, NewPublicHealth spoke with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, the Housing and Community Development Manager at CASA de Maryland.

NewPublicHealth: One factor in students not finishing high school in Langley Park is that many high schools students ages 16-19 drop out so that they can go to work and help support their families. Is this especially an issue of concern in the Latino community?

Zorayda Moreira-Smith: There are a number of reasons people drop out at that age. One of them is that 35 percent are working because of family need. The safety nets that are generally there for individuals aren’t there for immigrant communities. Most of the parents in these families probably left school after 8th or 9th grade. And once you reach a certain age, you’re also seen as an adult, so there’s an expectation that you help out with the family needs. For most of the families in the area, there’s a high unemployment rate or they have temporary jobs or are day laborers. So, as soon as children reach a certain age, there’s the expectation to start helping out financially and I think it’s very common.

And most immigrant families not only support the people that make up their household here in the United States, but also support their family in the countries of their origin. And while our data doesn’t show it, some of these individuals and kids in households could be living with family members who aren’t their parents—they could be their aunts or their uncles or what not. So, also as soon as they’re working, they’re often supporting their siblings or their parents or their grandparents in their origin countries. 

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