Category Archives: Public Health Departments
Later today Lisa Simpson, MB, BCh, MPH, president and CEO of AcademyHealth, will moderate a “Washington Update” panel discussion at the sixth annual Keeneland Conference taking place this week in Lexington, Ky. The discussion will focus on issues to watch at the federal level and panelists include Paul Jarris, MD, MBA, Executive Director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of Trust for America's Health; and Robert Pestronk, MPH, Executive Director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Simpson ahead of the session.
NewPublicHealth: What will your “Washington Update” focus on?
Dr. Simpson: I have the good fortune of moderating a discussion with three important leaders from Washington—Jeff Levi, Paul Jarris and Bobby Pestronk—and we’ll be bringing an update about what is going on in Washington that affects the field of public health and public health services research (PHSR) specifically. We’re going to be talking about the general policy context and the conversation in Washington in terms of budget and priority and tradeoff, but also talking about how we think public health services research is informing the conversation and the kinds of questions that policymakers have.
NPH: How has public health services research evolved in the last few years in terms of informing the conversation?
Yesterday, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, released the 2013-17 Prevention Agenda: New York State’s Health Improvement Plan—a statewide, five-year plan to improve the health and quality of life for everyone who lives in New York State. The plan is a blueprint for local community action to improve health and address health disparities.
Dr. Shah was joined by New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, and representatives from leading health care and community organizations at the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center in Manhattan. Among the other speakers were Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, president of The New York Academy of Medicine, and Daniel Sisto, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State.
>>Read a related Q&A with Commissioner Nirav Shah.
“We’ve all heard the adage—an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Commissioner Shah. “We need to fundamentally change the way we think about achieving better health in our society.”
That fundamental shift toward prevention, said Dr. Shah, requires setting clear goals, promoting active collaborations, and identifying policies and strategies that create opportunities for everyone to live a healthy life.
The Prevention Agenda identifies five priority areas:
- Prevent chronic disease
- Promote healthy and safe environments
- Promote healthy women, infants and children
- Promote mental health and prevent substance abuse
- Prevent HIV, STDs, vaccine-preventable diseases, and healthcare-associated infections
A health improvement plan like the one released by the New York Department of Health is a critical prerequisite for public health department accreditation. Recently, the Public Health Accreditation Board awarded five-year accreditation to 11 public health departments. Those 11 are the first of hundreds currently preparing to become accredited, including New York state.
"Completing the accreditation application, which includes our Prevention Agenda 2013-17, provides the Department of Health a valuable opportunity to engage partners and community stakeholders in our ongoing efforts to improve public health, evaluate the effectiveness of our services and showcase our successes," Commissioner Shah said.
Today, New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, released the 2013-17 Prevention Agenda: New York State’s Health Improvement Plan—a statewide, five-year plan to improve the health and quality of life for everyone who lives in New York State. The plan is a blueprint for local community action to improve health and address health disparities, and is the result of a collaboration with 140 organizations, including hospitals, local health departments, health providers, health plans, employers and schools that identified key priorities.
Dr. Shah, the architect behind today’s prevention agenda, was confirmed as New York State’s youngest Commissioner of Health two years ago. The state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, had three critical goals: reduce the state’s annual Medicaid growth rate of 13 percent, increase access to care and improve health care outcomes.
Shah, a former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Physician Faculty Scholar and Clinical Scholar, has already made important inroads in all three goals and the prevention agenda builds on that. NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Shah about prevention efforts already underway in the state, and what it takes to partner health and health care to achieve needed changes in population health.
NewPublicHealth: How does improving the social determinants of health help you achieve your goals in New York State?
Dr. Shah: New York’s Medicaid program covers 40 percent of the health care dollars spent in the state. We were growing at an unsustainable rate, and we needed a rapid, but effective solution. So, we engaged the health care community, including advocates, physician representatives, the legislature, unions, management, and launched a process that enables continuous, incremental, but real change toward the Triple Aim—improved individual health care, improved population health and lower costs.
Collectively, these efforts resulted in a $4 billion savings last year in the State’s Medicaid program, increased the Medicaid rolls by 154,000 people, and resulted in demonstrable improvements in quality throughout the system.
NPH: What opportunities do you see for public health and health care to work together in New York State?
The most recent update on flu activity in the U.S. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds 47 states showing widespread activity, down from 48 states the week before. “Widespread” means that more than half of the counties in a state are reporting flu activity. While the Western part of the country will likely see more cases, flu seems to be slowing some in the South, Southeast, New England and the Midwest—though still packing a punch in terms of illness, deaths, emergency room visits and hospital admissions.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Paul Etkind, MPH, DrPH, MPH, DrPH, Senior Director of Infectious Diseases at the National Association of County and City Health Officials about the role local health departments play in educating communities about flu prevention and helping to facilitate treatment.
NewPublicHealth: What, if anything, is different about the flu this year?
Paul Etkind: The flu severity that’s being experienced, which we haven’t seen for several years now, has gotten the public’s attention and they’re really heeding the public health urgings, communication and education that’s been going on all along saying hey, get your flu shots, protect yourself. So now, within a relatively short period of time, there’s a very large demand for flu shots.
During the H1N1 outbreak of a few years ago, there was much greater funding for what the health departments were doing. I saw some magic happening then. They had the funds to hold clinics in very unusual places, such as local baseball stadiums and airports. They went to places where people are most comfortable.
A new report from the Institute for Wisconsin’s Health finds that almost three-quarters of the state’s local and tribal health departments currently share at least some services and that the concept is paying off in improved efficiency and effectiveness. The report is based on the results of a “Quick Strike” project funded by the Public Health Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRN), a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The IWH researchers found that 71 percent of the state’s local health departments have some type of “shared services” arrangement with neighboring public health agencies, such as staffing, funding, equipment or other resources to jointly deliver a program, service, or support function.
According to the researchers, reasons for sharing public health services include better use of resources, cost savings, the opportunity to provide better services and responding to program requirements.
Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Patrick Libbey, co-director of the Center for Sharing Public Health Resources, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that helps public health departments and policy makers understand the value of sharing resources.
Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, Health Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, is the keynote speaker at the opening session of the Public Health Law Research annual meeting that started yesterday afternoon in New Orleans. In advance of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Farley about the role of legal research in moving the public health agenda forward, how New York City is doing in the weeks following Hurricane Sandy, and the flu epidemic hitting the city that prompted New York State Governor Cuomo to declare a public health emergency earlier this week.
NewPublicHealth: What will you focus on during your address at the Public Health Law Research Program annual meeting?
Dr. Farley: I will be going through a number of policies that we have put in place here in New York City to promote health. Most of those will be around food, but some will be around tobacco. So that includes things such as our raising of tobacco taxes, our smoke-free air rule and around our prohibition on the use of trans fats in restaurants, our calorie labeling initiative and our portion rule [limits on beverage sizes at some food outlets]. And I will share some thoughts about the role researchers can play in policy development for an agency like ours.
NPH: How important has legal research been for some of the recent public health initiatives that have been introduced in New York City?
Three months have passed since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. And while the number of people displaced by the storm has gone down from tens of thousands to the hundreds in different communities, some people are still without power or a permanent place to live. Others face the daunting task of rebuilding businesses and homes while protecting against mold and dust, which can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems. For many, the stress has rekindled mental health issues that might have been at bay, or created new ones or just made tough times even worse.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Patricia Yang, DrPH, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
NewPublicHealth: Hurricane Sandy hit just over two months ago. How’s the city doing now?
Dr. Yang: There are people in parts of the city for whom the storm is a distant memory, and their daily lives are virtually unaffected apart from what they might hear on the news or read in the papers. But in the areas that were most directly affected by the hurricane, life for many is far from normal and may never return to what it was pre-storm. Those areas in particular are parts of the Rockaways and Coney Island and Staten Island. So there are still thousands of people who don’t have basic utilities and for whom grid power and heat have not returned. And we’re heading into the coldest winter months.
NPH: What’s the role of the public health department both now to help people deal with the aftermath, and looking ahead to prepare for the next disaster?
The Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX) is a brand new online community designed to be a communication hub for public health professionals interested in learning and sharing information about quality improvement (QI) in public health. PHQIX was created by RTI International and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The key goal of the site is to share national QI efforts by health departments of all sizes so that public health experts can learn from the experience of their colleagues across the country. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Jamie Pina, PhD, MSPH, PHQIX project director, and Pamela Russo, senior program director at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation about the new resource and its promise for helping health departments continuously improve their performance and achieve the national standards set forth by the Public Health Accreditation Board.
NewPublicHealth: What’s the vision of PHQIX, and how did it come about?
Pamela Russo: Public health departments are looking for ways to be more and more efficient and to eliminate waste and to make their limited budgets have the maximum possible impact. That’s the major value of QI, to show what works and where you can improve.
Just two weeks after Hurricane Sandy hit, the State of New Jersey held a Response Roundtable at the Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune Township, N.J., to begin a review of the health department’s response to the storm. The site was an appropriate one: in the first few days of the Sandy, the medical center’s emergency room treated close to 2,000 patients with storm-related medical and mental health emergencies. A key roundtable participant was Nicole Lurie, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Leading the discussion was New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd.
Critical responses by the health department have included:
- A Department of Health hotline, opened within days of the storm, and staffed with public health experts who answer questions on mold cleanup, food safety, and drinking water concerns. The public can reach the hotline either through the state's 2-1-1 system or by calling 1-866-234-0964.
- The New Jersey Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services is coordinating statewide efforts to help individuals and communities manage the emotional impact of the storm, and offers assistance through a toll-free Disaster Mental Health Helpline: 1-877-294-HELP (4357); a TTY line is available for persons who are deaf and hearing impaired at 1-877-294-4356.
- The New Jersey Medical Reserve Corps (NJMRC) program is comprised of health care professionals and community health volunteers from across the state. "In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the Department has received many inquiries from people looking to volunteer in New Jersey's response and recovery efforts," says O'Dowd. Every county is the state has at least one MRC unit, and all 25 NJMRC units have been active during the response and recovery efforts, according to O’Dowd. Volunteers have been serving at shelters across the state, have helped staff hotlines and have distributed food and water in local communities. New Jersey was the first state to have an MRC in every county.
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approved the New Jersey health department’s request to ensure access to prescription medications to uninsured residents affected by the storm through its Emergency Prescription Assistance Program. The program provides access, at any enrolled pharmacy, to necessary prescription drugs and some medical equipment for individuals in a federally-identified disaster area who don’t have health insurance.
- The Department has also assisted local and county health departments who were impacted by the storm. Many health department offices and facilities faced flooding, power outages, water shortages, wastewater concerns and communication difficulties. The state health department’s field staff has assisted with, among other issues, shelter and retail food inspections, in the weeks after the storm.
Among the impacts of the East Coast’s Hurricane Sandy have been tens of thousands of uprooted trees, contaminated water and tons of compromised food. A recent article in the Journal of Environmental Health Natural recommends that environmental health become an integral part of emergency preparedness and that community stakeholders take a role in merging the two.
David Dyjack, DrPH, associate executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and a co-author of the study, spoke with NewPublicHealth about building momentum to include environmental health in disaster emergency preparedness.
NewPublicHealth: What does the article address?
David Dyjack: The article is the first step in a series of research steps looking at how best to integrate environmental health and emergency preparedness so that communities are more resilient and take greater responsibility for their own health and safety in the event of an environmental disaster.
NPH: What is distinct about environmental health emergency preparedness?