Category Archives: Q&A

Sep 19 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Joshua Sharfstein, MD

Faces of Public Health Joshua Sharfstein

In the last few months, several prominent national and state public health leaders have announced plans to move on to new things, including David Fleming, MD, MPH, the former Public Health Director in Seattle & King County Washington, who NewPublicHealth spoke with last month. We also recently spoke with Joshua Sharfstein, MD, secretary of Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who will leave his post at the end of the year to teach at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University as part of the faculty of the School of Health Policy and Management.

Earlier this year, Sharfstein gave the commencement address at the graduation ceremony of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, and had this to say about the importance of ensuring the public’s health:

“The premise of public health is that the well­being of individuals, families and communities has fundamental moral value. When people are healthy, they are productive, creative and caring. They enjoy life and have fun with their friends and families. They strengthen their neighborhoods and they help others in need. In short, they get to live their lives.”

NewPublicHealth: What prompted you to move to academia at this point in your career?

Joshua Sharfstein: It's a chance to help train hundreds of new public health leaders as well as work in depth on issues that are important to me. I am especially looking forward to getting to work closely with so many talented faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School.

NPH: How have your research and teaching skills benefitted from your time as deputy director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and your position with the state of Maryland?

Sharfstein: I've seen a lot of public health in action at the local, state and federal level. My goal will be to show students how important, interesting, engaging and—at times—strange public health can be. I have a research interest in why certain policies are pursued and others are not—and how public health can be successful in a difficult political and economic climate.

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Sep 12 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Andrea Gielen, the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded $4 million to the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health to further fund its work on injury prevention research and policy development. According to the CDC, injuries are the leading cause of death in the United States among people ages 1 to 44, costing the country $406 billion each year. And across the globe, 16,000 people die from largely preventable injuries every day.

“This funding will allow us to advance our work in closing the gap between research and practice in new and innovative ways,” said Andrea Gielen, ScD, ScM, the center’s director. “Whether fatal or non-fatal, injuries take an enormous toll on communities. Our faculty, staff and students are dedicated to preventing injuries and ameliorating their effects through better design of products and environments, more effective policies, increased education and improved treatment.”

The five-year grant will support several innovative research projects on key issues, including evaluating motor vehicle ignition interlock laws, studying universal bicycle helmet policies, testing m-Health tools to reduce prescription drug overdose and evaluating programs to prevent falls among older adults. The center will also continue to offer training and education to public health students and practitioners, as well as to new audiences that can contribute to injury prevention.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Gielen about the CDC grant

NewPublicHealth: What are the goals for each of the four research areas for which you’ve received funding?

Andrea Gielen: Each of the four is a full research projects with specific aims. For example, with ignition interlock laws—which are car ignitions that can’t start unless a breathalyzer confirms that a driver is sober—there’s been a little bit of evidence that they reduce alcohol-related motor vehicle crash injuries and deaths, but there are two gaps. There has never been a national study of the impact of these laws, and we don’t know a whole lot about how they’re implemented. What is it about ignition interlock policies and how they’re implemented that’s really related to their impact on reducing fatal crashes?

We want to look at all four projects in the same way: We’ll be looking at barriers and facilitators to how policies that we think are effective are adopted and implemented, and what it is about that adoption and implementation of the processes that make these policies effective. 

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Sep 9 2014
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The Ebola Response: Q&A with Laurie Garrett, Council on Foreign Relations

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Almost every day brings reports of new cases of Ebola, the often-fatal virus now impacting multiple countries in West Africa. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2014 Ebola outbreak is the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Spread of the disease to the United States is unlikely—although not impossible—and efforts are underway to find vaccines and cures, including scale-ups of drug development and manufacturing, as well as human trials for vaccines both in the United States and around the world. However, in West Africa the epidemic is impacting lives, economies, health care infrastructure and even security as countries try a variety of methods—including troop control—to get citizens to obey quarantines and other potentially life-saving instructions.

Late last week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Garrett has written extensively on global health issues and was on the ground as a reporter during the Ebola outbreak in Zaire in 1995.

NewPublicHealth: What are your key concerns with respect to the current Ebola outbreak?

Laurie Garrett: My main concern has been about the nature of the international response, which could be characterized as non-response until very recently. And now that the leadership of the international global health community has finally taken the epidemic seriously, it’s too late to easily stop it. We’ve gone through the whole list of all the usual ways that we stop Ebola and every single one of them was initiated far too late with far too few resources and far too few people—and now we’re in uncharted territory. We’re now trying to tackle a problem that has never reached this stage before and we don’t know what to do. The international response is pitiful, disgusting and woeful.

NPH: How do you account for such a poor response?

Garrett: First of all, the World Health Organization (WHO) is a mere shadow of its former self. When I was involved in the Ebola epidemic in 1995 in Kikwit, Zaire, the WHO was recognized worldwide as the leader of everything associated with outbreaks and infection, and it acted aggressively. It didn’t have a huge budget, but it still was able to take the problem very seriously and the resources that were needed were available, and more importantly a very talented leadership team combining the resources of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; WHO; Medicin San Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders); and the University of Kinshasa, Zaire, came together. They respected each other. They were on board together. They worked very closely with the local Red Cross, and they were able to conquer the problem pretty swiftly. 

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Sep 5 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Nicholas Mukhtar, Healthy Detroit

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Last June, the Washington Post held a live event, Health Beyond Health Care, which brought together doctors, bankers, architects, teachers and others to focus on health beyond the doctor’s office. The goal of the Washington, D.C., event—which was co-sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation others—was to showcase examples of communities working with partners to create cultures of health.

Healthy Detroit is a shining example. The project is a 501(c)(3) public health organization dedicated to building a culture of healthy, active living in the city of Detroit. It was formed less than a year ago in response to the U.S. Surgeon General’s National Prevention Strategy (NPS.) The NPS offers guidance on choosing the most effective and actionable methods of improving health and well-being, and envisions a prevention-oriented society where all sectors recognize the value of health.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Nicholas Mukhtar, founder and CEO of Healthy Detroit.

NewPublicHealth: How did Healthy Detroit get its start?

Nicholas Mukhtar: I was just about to the MPH part of a joint MPH/MD degree and had  always wanted to be a surgeon. But as I started living in the city and getting more involved in the community, I really saw a different side of health care, and to me it just became more rewarding to focus on the systemic issues in the health care system, more so than treating people once they already got sick. I’ve now finished the MPH part of my degree, and am starting on my MD degree.

So I started sending out a number of emails to different people and reached out to Dr. Regina Benjamin, then the U.S. Surgeon General, as well as local individuals. And then we established our mission, which was really to build a culture of prevention in the city while implementing the National Prevention Strategy. 

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Sep 4 2014
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Better Health, Delivered by Phone: Q&A with Stan Berkow

Recently NewPublicHealth shared an interview from AlleyWatch, a Silicon Valley technology blog about SenseHealth, a new medical technology firm that has created a text message platform that health care providers can use to communicate with patients. In May, SenseHealth was picked to be part of the New York Digital Health Accelerator, which gives up to $100,000 in funding to companies developing digital health solutions for patients and providers. The accelerator is run by the Partnership Fund for New York City and the New York eHealth Collaborative. SenseHealth engaged in a clinical trial last year that used the technology to help providers engage with patients who are Medicaid beneficiaries.

Health conditions supported by the SenseHealth platform range from diabetes to mental health diagnoses, while the messaging options include more than 20 customizable care plans, such as medicine or blood pressure monitoring reminders. There are also more than 1,000 supportive messages, such as a congratulatory text when a patient lets the provider know they’ve filled a prescription or completed lab work. The platform couples the content with a built-in algorithm that can sense when a user has logged information or responded to a provider, and providers are able to set specific messages for specific patients. Early assessments show that the technology has helped patient manage their conditions, with data showing more SenseHealth patients adhered to treatment plans and showed up for appointments than patients who didn’t receive the text program.

We received strong feedback on the post, including a question from a reader about whether Medicaid beneficiaries lose contact with their providers if they disconnect their cell phones or change their numbers, a common occurrence among low-income individuals who often have to prioritize monthly bills. To learn more about SenseHealth and its texting platform, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with the company’s CEO and founder, Stan Berkow.

NewPublicHealth: How did SenseHealth get its start?

Stan Berkow: We got started about two to two-and-a-half years ago. I met one of the other founders while I was working at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. We were both clinical trial coordinators and were seeing—first hand—the difficulties in getting participants in our studies to actually follow through on all the exercise and nutritional changes they needed to make in order to complete the research project. That led us to step back and look at the bigger health care picture and recognize the challenges for providers to help patients manage chronic conditions, and recognizing that there’s a huge time limitation on the providers. That pushed us toward finding a way through technology to help those providers help the patients they work with more effectively to prevent and manage chronic conditions.

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Aug 21 2014
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Workplace Wellness: Q&A with Catherine M. Baase, The Dow Chemical Company

We’ve written extensively on NewPublicHealth on the importance of building a Culture of Health—an environment where everyone has access to opportunities to make healthy choices. In June, the Washington Post held a live forum—sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—titled “Health Beyond Health Care,” which looked at how creative minds in traditionally non-health fields are working together to build a Culture of Health in the United States. As part of our continuing coverage of this issue we spoke with Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company, about workplace wellness programs.

file Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company

NewPublicHealth: Why do you think workplace wellness is important?

Catherine Baase: I guess it depends on “important” in what way. I’ll tell you two things. One is if you were asking me why it’s important to a business or a corporation, I think it brings critical value to many different corporate priorities—things such as safety, human capital priorities such as attracting and retaining talent, manufacturing reliability, the capacity to positively impact health care costs. So there’s a landscape of corporate priorities where the achievement of healthy people is important, even including drug satisfaction and employee engagement.

But on another lens, I would say that I think workplace wellness is important to society for the achievement of public health objectives. The fact that we’re not doing really well on the achievement of health outcomes for our population as a whole, and the achievement of improved health will depend on a variety of sectors of society getting involved, and one of them is workplaces. Others are schools and communities and things like that, but the achievement of public health objectives depends a bit on workplaces being involved, as well.

NPH: Who is it that benefits from workplace wellness?

Baase: Well I think the individuals, the employees and oftentimes their families, because a lot of workplace wellness programs either directly or indirectly impact the family. It’s the community within which folks live because the culture is impacted, and the company certainly.

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Aug 13 2014
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The Mission of Public Health: Q&A with David Fleming, Seattle and King County in Washington State

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This week, David Fleming, MD, MPH, stepped down as public health director of Seattle and King County in Washington State after seven years leading the public health agency. Over that period, among many other accomplishments, he led the department’s efforts to sign up more than 165,000 residents under the Affordable Care Act and oversaw a 17 percent drop in obesity rates in partnering schools.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Fleming about his views on the mission of public health.

NPH: How has public health changed since you began your career?

David Fleming: The mission of public health has not changed—and that's to prevent unnecessary illness and death—but what has been changing is what the nature of that prevention is. Increasingly, it is in chronic diseases, injuries and, importantly, the driving force of underlying social determinants of health. So public health has changed from being more of a direct service agency where we have frontline public health workers who are out there providing treatment to people and preventing infectious diseases, to really more of a collaborative kind of agency where we need to be working with a wide range of partners outside of the traditional domains of public health to help them implement the changes that need to happen. It's a fundamental shift, I think, in the business model of public health that we're in the process of witnessing today.

NPH: When you point to some of the achievements that you've had, whether they're specific changes in the state or specific models of examples that you've given to other states, what would you point to?

Fleming: First off, I think it's important to say that public health is a team sport, and so when I talk about accomplishments, I'm talking about accomplishments of the department in which I work on this and the staff that work here. I think that we have been successful at pivoting to that future that we were talking about a moment ago, at looking at how health departments can attack the underlying social determinants of health.

Increasingly, it is health disparities that are driving poor health in this country. We have been successful here in beginning to figure out how to partner with other sectors—the education sector to reduce obesity in our poorest school districts, for example. We’ve also worked with the community development sector to begin making investments in our poorest neighborhoods to increase the healthiness of our communities, so that people who live in them can be healthy, as well. At the end of the day, I think that we have been trying to lead this new path where public health is a partner in communities with all of the other entities that are capable of influencing health and figuring out how to make that happen.

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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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Aug 1 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Bill Kohl, PhD

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Harold W. “Bill” Kohl, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health is in the midst of a three-year appointment to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) Science Board. Kohl’s role is to provide recommendations in the areas of program development and evaluation, which is critical to the Council’s mission to engage, educate and empower all Americans across to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition. During his time at the School of Public Health, Kohl has been researching effective uses of social networking to create demand for healthy lifestyles among youth and working with organizations to promote disease prevention, physical activity and exercise as a health priority.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Kohl about the work of the President’s Council.

NewPublicHealth: Is the current mission of the President’s Council different than it was in the past?

Bill Kohl: There has been a shift. The President’s Council started in the 1950s as the result of a small study that suggested that American kids are not as fit as kids in Eastern bloc countries—Russia, primarily. The President’s Council started under President Eisenhower and then President Kennedy’s administrating sought to increase kids’ fitness by doing fitness testing in schools and promoting physical activity and physical education.

That wound its way through the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then in the ‘80s there was a much bigger rush to health-related physical fitness rather than skill-related fitness activities—things that you can actually change and that are related to health outcomes compared to fitness skills you might be born with, such as the ability to run a 50-yard dash.

Then, most recently, the Council has included nutrition in his mission and been renamed.

NPH: How does your background inform your new role?

Kohl: As chair of the science board, my job is to make sure that the President’s Council has the most up-to-date science that’s relevant to its mission and advancing initiatives that are evidence-based.

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Jul 30 2014
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Helping the Homeless Quit Smoking: Q&A with Michael Businelle and Darla Kendzor, The University of Texas School of Public Health

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Not surprisingly, a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that homeless smokers struggle with quitting more than economically disadvantaged smokers who have their own housing. The study compared homeless smokers receiving treatment at a shelter-based smoking cessation clinic to people enrolled in a smoking cessation program at a Dallas, Texas, safety-net hospital.

“On average, homeless people reported that they found themselves around about 40 smokers every day, while the group getting cessation care at the hospital reported that they were more likely to be around three to four smokers every day,” said Michael S. Businelle, PhD, assistant professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus, and the lead author of the study. “Imagine if you had an alcohol problem and were trying to quit drinking—it would be almost impossible to quit if you were surrounded by 40 people drinking every day. That is the situation homeless folks have to overcome when they try to quit smoking.”

Businelle said research shows that about 75 percent of homeless people smoke and that smoking is a leading cause of death in this population. And although homeless smokers are just as likely to try to quit smoking as are other smokers, they are far less successful at quitting, according to Businelle’s work. He said tailored smoking cessation programs are needed for homeless people, including smoke-free zones in shelters.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Businelle and his wife, Darla Kendzor, PhD, who is a co-author of the recent study on smoking and the homeless, as well as an assistant professor at The University of Texas.

NPH: Why did you embark on the study?

Michael Businelle: The smoking prevalence in this population is so high and homeless people are not enrolled in clinical trials so we don’t know what will work best for them. We’ve developed, over the last 50 years, really good treatments for the general population of smokers, but there are very few treatments that have been tested in homeless populations.

Darla Kendzor: And cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are in large part due to tobacco smoking, are the leading causes of death among homeless adults. So quitting smoking would make a big difference for them. 

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