Category Archives: Public Health Departments
GUEST POST by Lisa Junker, CAE, Director of Communications at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).
The United States is facing a “perfect storm of vulnerability,” said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, yesterday at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)—and state and local public health officials are on the front line of defense.
Frieden began his remarks by encouraging his listeners to “go back to first principles” and keep in mind the first priority of government, which is to keep people safe.
“If the government can’t keep people safe, whether it’s the police or us in public health, we are failing at our number-one responsibility to the public,” Frieden said.
And to keep the U.S. population safe today, public health officials have to keep their eyes open for threats arriving from outside our borders. Infectious diseases, drug resistance, new pathogens, intentional engineering of microbes, and globalization of travel, food and medicines: “If there’s a blind spot anywhere, we’re at risk everywhere,” Frieden emphasized.
He also focused on CDC’s partnership with state and local public health, even during the current tight fiscal atmosphere.
“Overall, our approach has been to double down on support for the front lines [state and local health agencies],” he said. “We all are in this together…We have lots of problems and lots of opportunities, and the more effectively we are connected, the more effectively we can address these opportunities.”
Public health institutions across the country are joining the 10.5 million users on the virtual pinboard website, Pinterest, to share important health information and images. Topics such as women’s health, healthy living, emergency preparedness and public health history are a few of the boards on the CDCgov page. Harvard School of Public Health focuses more on healthy eating, recommended readings and inspirational quotes. Users are able to categorize topics and pictures anyway they want, allowing every institute’s page to be unique.
Users of the online scrapbook view content, “re-pin” photos to their pages, add comments to images and “like” user’s content. Pages encourage users to leave comments on the images that they like most or would like to see more of. Pinterest is the third-fastest growing social network, with 80 percent of users being women and 50 percent mothers, according to TechCrunch. The site is another way for public health professionals to stay at the center of the public health conversation and interact with their key audience on the most recent public health issues. The dissemination of information continues to grow as more people participate in the sorting, collecting and sharing of public health information.
Take a look at some of the other public health institutions that are joining Pinterest: American Public Health Association (APHA), Ohio State's College of Public Health and Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL).
Public health department accreditation is a key topic on the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) annual meeting agenda this year. John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, Secretary of Health for the state of Washington, will participate in a discussion on the issue during the meeting. He speaks with authority, as Washington, along with Oklahoma, is one of only two states recently accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board.
>>Follow our ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage throughout the week.
In advance of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Wiesman about the benefits of accreditation to public health departments and the communities they serve.
NewPublicHealth: What are benefits of public health accreditation to share with directors of state health departments who have not yet applied for the credential?
John Wiesman: Honestly, I think accreditation gives you bragging rights in the sense that you’re saying “our organization values quality and outcomes.” For example, you can add that to a grant for a question that asks about quality processes. That states your commitment and that a national organization found that to be true. And it gives you bragging rights with fellow cabinet officers and the governor. To be able to say you are an accredited health department means something and you can value that.
Another critical thing is that for the local public health agencies in your state, the process of going through accreditation and developing a state health improvement plan gives you an opportunity to talk about how you want to improve health in your state and get everyone on the same page. So it’s a way to build relationships with health departments in the state and showcase priorities you want to work on together. In that sense, the process of applying for accreditation goes a very long way.
NPH: What benefit has the state health department accreditation brought to local health departments in your state who are considering applying for the credential?
Wiesman: We have learning collaborative in the state as well as some grants that allow us to work with local health departments on quality improvement to become accreditation-ready. And by having gone through the accreditation process ourselves as a state health department, we bring added credibility to the table and can answer many of their questions, and our firsthand experience gives things more meaning. I think it’s absolutely important for state health departments to become accredited if you want others to do that as well.
For the last several years there’s been a bit of a tradition at the annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), with the incoming president introducing a year-long “President's Challenge” to focus the attention of state health officers on a critical national public health issue.
José Montero, MD, outgoing president of ASTHO and director of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, chose the reintegration of public health and health care. The starting point for the challenge was a report by the Institute of Medicine, Primary Care and Public Health: Exploring Integration to Improve Population Health. In his announcement, Montero emphasized the need to take a systems approach to health care transformation in order to achieve lasting improvements in population health.
Throughout the past year, both state health departments and other public health organizations have added their integration projects to a project list maintained by ASTHO. This includes the State of New Hampshire Department of Public Health, which has collaborated with a community health center network and others to use electronic health records to link providers and tobacco quitline services, with the goal of cutting smoking rates.
>>Follow our ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage throughout the week.
Just ahead of the 2013 ASTHO annual meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Montero about the importance of the challenge he put forward for his fellow state health officers and next steps.
NewPublicHealth: What participation have you seen by the state health departments in your President's Challenge on reintegration of public health and health care?
José Montero: The specific metric that I used was to have states and the District of Columbia send stories that illustrate levels of partnership and integration. During the past year, the visibility of the topic has grown dramatically. In addition, ASTHO has an ongoing partnership that has brought together more than 50 different organizations for the same purpose. We meet regularly, working together on how to advance the agenda of better coordination and integration, and every day we identify new people who want to participate, and I think that has been an amazing result. I don’t want to claim that all of this is because of the ASTHO initiative. There were a lot of things that were out there already. But this was a timely call, and all of those who were working on it are joining efforts to make it happen.
The annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) begins tomorrow in Orlando, Florida. Attendees at the ASTHO annual meeting head to the same sessions and listen to the same speakers over three days, which helps create a common fluency with critical public health issues. It also creates cohesion among state health officers, who often work with each other during public health crises and learn from each others’ successful approaches to dilemmas such as budget cuts and entrenched chronic disease.
>>Follow our ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage throughout the week.
Ahead of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with ASTHO’s long-time executive director, Paul Jarris, MD, about the key issues participants will engage in during the 2013 ASTHO meeting.
NewPublicHealth: What are key themes at this year’s annual meeting?
Dr. Paul Jarris: There are a number of major health issues on the agenda for the conference, including an update on Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait, last year’s ASTHO presidential challenge. Together with the Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA) there’s an intention to roll out Healthy Babies learning collaboratives across the country, and we’ll be sharing successes of the initiative from the past year.
Another major area we’ll be talking about will be the reintegration of public health and health care. A lot of this work has been outgoing ASTHO president Dr. Jose Montero’s presidential challenge for the last year, and there’s been a lot of work going on, including the development of a national collaborative between public health and primary care that ASTHO is supporting. The collaborative involves more than 50 different health care and public health organizations, brought together for the purposes of improving the population’s health.
Incoming president Terry Cline will launch his Presidential Challenge, a major initiative on prescription drug abuse and misuse and overdose. There are more people who die from prescription drug overdose than from motor vehicle accidents in this country—and there’s much that can be done about it. We’ll also have the leadership from the Office of National Drug Control Policy speaking on this critical issue.
The annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) begins next week in Orlando, Fla., bringing together state health officials and other leaders to talk about the latest critical issues around public health in the United States. NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the meeting covering workshops, sessions and keynote speeches, as well as speaking with program speakers and conference attendees.
Discussions will highlight ways to integrate and coordinate health care and public health, including new opportunities under the Affordable Care Act. We will also explore the new ASTHO President's Challenge around preventing prescription drug abuse, check in on efforts around healthy babies and more. Coverage will also include interviews with thought leaders including Paul Jarris, Terry Cline, José Montero and John Wiesman.
A review of a recent economic surveillance survey by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) finds that despite modest improvement, local health departments in the United States are still struggling to recover from the recent recession. NACCHO administered the survey as part of the National Profile of Local Health Departments in 2012, prior to the 2013 sequester cuts.
Just under 80 percent of the 2,700 local health departments in the country responded to the survey, which included questions about budgets, staffing and program cuts. Close to half of the health departments responding to the survey reported reductions in, or elimination of, services in at least one health department program area for last year, and 27 percent reported budget cuts. Analysis of the survey results also found that local health departments lost 43,900 jobs through layoffs or attrition since 2008. While positions remained stable last year, many local health departments have been unable to fill positions that were cut in previous years.
The survey also found that certain program areas have been especially hard hit by budget cuts, including immunization (22 percent of local health departments faced cuts ); emergency preparedness (15 percent); and maternal and child health (15 percent).
“While workforce reductions and program cuts may have slowed in some areas of the country in 2012, on the whole, the budgets of our nation’s local health departments are not keeping pace with the general recovery,” said NACCHO Executive Director Robert M. Pestronk. “In fact,” added Pestronk, who previously served as the director of Genesee County health department in Michigan, “continuing annual draconian cuts associated with sequestration will further erode local health departments’ capacity to serve and respond. If keeping people healthy and safe is a priority, then we should rebuild local response capacity and health security, not keep cutting it.”
Examples of the impact budget cuts have had on health departments include:
- The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) was forced to limit its support of prenatal care services due to a five percent cut in federal funds for the Healthy Start Initiative. Other cuts resulted in the Health Commission losing community health worker positions that provided home visits to young families; case management for children and teens at risk of truancy; and services at school-based health centers.
- Because of statewide budget cuts to local health departments in Maryland in 2009, the state’s Frederick County Health Department eliminated a third of its nursing positions. Before those cuts that health department held three flu clinics simultaneously, but now supports one clinic at a time, which has reduced the number of residents getting vaccines and keeps the department from achieving its public health emergency preparedness goals.
>>Read NACCHO's release on the new survey.
New York City is currently developing a pilot public health program known as NYC Macroscope — the first domestic effort to aggregate electronic health record (EHR) data into a surveillance tool to inform public health decisions. The population health surveillance system will compile electronic health records from primary care practices to help city health officials monitor—and respond to—the real-time prevalence of conditions that impact public health. The project is the result of a partnership between the New York City Health Department and the CUNY School of Public Health, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, and additional support from the de Beaumont Foundation, Robin Hood and the New York State Health Foundation.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Carolyn Greene, MD, Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Division of Epidemiology, about the plans and goals for the program.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about NYC Macroscope and how it will work.
Carolyn Greene: NYC Macroscope is going to be New York City’s first electronic health record surveillance system. We have a program here at the health department called Primary Care Information Project (PCIP), and it’s one of the nation’s largest distributed electronic health record networks. PCIP began in 2005. It concentrated on primary care practices in high need areas where the Health Department really wanted to encourage providers to use electronic health records. The program has been extremely successful and they’ve completed many different activities to improve the quality of clinical care.
But in recent years, we’ve been asking the question: Can we use electronic health records for more than just patient care? Can we, in fact, use electronic health records to monitor the health of the population? Here at the Health Department, we have many different ways to conduct population health surveillance. We have surveys that we conduct by telephone, we have disease registries that we host, and we have our vital statistics registry on deaths and births. All these data are very important. But they are costly, resource-intensive and they often have a time lag from when the data are collected to when we can actually find the results from the data, so the advantages of an electronic health record surveillance system are many.
One advantage is that the architecture is already there. If you already have the electronic health records in place, you don’t have to find additional resources to collect the data because you’re already collecting the data through the EHR architecture. Other advantages are that potentially you can collect data in real time and potentially at low cost.
NPH: Do you see any potential disadvantages?
Greene: I think the first one is we always have to ask how representative the data will be in terms of representing the population as a whole. First of all, electronic health records only collect data on people who are in care and, because sicker patients go to the doctor more frequently, there’s a greater likelihood that we may be picking up more information on sicker patients. So we have questions about how representative are the data.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital portfolio’s blog, a forum for discussion about the challenges of building a diverse, well-trained health care workforce, features a “Day in the Life” series this week featuring public health nurses. With their own words, these nurses talk not just about what they do, but why they do it—the importance and meaning of their efforts.
For Anneleen Severynen, RN, MN, PHN, of the South King County Mobile Medical Unit for Public Health Seattle and King County in Washington State, it’s about being able to help one person at a time. Anneleen wrote about Charlie, a 60-year-old Native American man who started drinking at the age of 12, bounced around foster homes, returned from service in Vietnam hurting even more, and now calls himself a “lost cause” who expects to drink himself to death.
“As I sat silently, I listened to him grieve the loss of his culture and detail the many kinds of discrimination he has suffered. Though he spoke with the slurred speech of a chronic alcoholic, his eloquence moved me. I noticed tears in his eyes as he described a few happy childhood memories with his father—memories not quite lost to him.”
By helping him to open up she was also able to get Charlie to agree to a few medical tests. He was given a prescription for high blood pressure. She doesn’t know whether he’ll follow through, but she knows that because she took the time to listen, he now has a better chance.
“Every day I get the chance to make a difference in people’s lives, and to help them know that they matter. I can help one person at a time make small choices that will improve their lives and health. As long as there is someone to hear their stories, there are no lost causes.”
The Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX) is an online communication hub for public health professionals interested in learning and sharing information about quality improvement in public health. Created by RTI International and funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PHQIX launched in September of 2012 with the goal of sustaining national efforts at quality improvement by providing public health practitioners with the opportunity to learn from the experiences of their colleagues. PHQIX includes:
- An online database of quality improvement efforts by public health departments across the country
- Search and query functions to help users find relevant examples for their own work
- A forum for dialogue on quality improvement
A recent initiative shared on the site called Operation Chuckwagon looked at the maintaining quality control of food safety for mobile food trucks in Northern Kentucky.
Food trucks are growing in popularity across the country as an inexpensive way to try different cuisines, and following some of the weather disasters this past year, some municipalities dispatched food trucks, with cost covered for residents, to areas without power and in need of food. Safety is critical. A recent report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found an outbreak of 91 salmonella cases linked to lunch trucks in Alberta, Canada. An investigation by food inspectors found many food storage and handling violations.
The Kentucky project increased the percentage of properly licensed mobile food vendors to 100 percent from a baseline of 25 percent, and also achieved a 100 percent compliance rate with required temperature controls, which had been a big problem during initial inspections.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Ted Talley, environmental health manager at the health department, about the quality improvement initiative.
NewPublicHealth: What’s novel about how you’ve approached the food trucks and made it easier for them to have food safety inspections?