Category Archives: Q&A

Mar 5 2014
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The Shasta Promise: NewPublicHealth Q&A with Charlene Ramont and Tom Armelino

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In Shasta County, Calif., the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency is using a County Rankings & Roadmaps grant to realize the “Shasta Promise,” which helps young people in the community prepare for success in any post-secondary school option so that they can obtain high-skill, high-income jobs that will yield long-term health benefits.

High poverty rates, low educational attainment and lack of employment opportunities are among the factors that make Shasta one of the least healthy counties in California. Only 19.7 percent of Shasta County’s adult population age 25 or older has a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 30.2 percent statewide. The goal of Shasta Promise is to increase awareness of and preparedness for post-secondary education. The program provides students in middle school, high school and college with the guidance and support they need to overcome barriers to pursuing higher education, and encourages a culture of college attendance among county residents.

To accomplish this, the county is implementing a newly-established College and Career Readiness Strategic Plan:

  • School leaders and counselors are being provided with a training curriculum and sessions to help them get students ready for college.
  • Parent focus groups are being convened to inform the development of an engagement plan between the schools and families.
  • Written policies are being developed for local colleges to accept all county students who meet enrollment requirement.
  • An agreement is being secured from Southern Oregon University to charge in-state tuition for Shasta County students who are admitted.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Charlene Ramont, a public health policy and program analyst with the Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency, and Tom Armelino, Shasta County’s Superintendent of Schools, about the Shasta Promise.

NewPublicHealth: What is the mission of the project?

Charlene Ramont: Our aim is to give every student, every option. We want all students, when they graduate from high school, to be prepared for all options post high school. When they graduate, they need to be prepared to join the military if they so choose, they need to be prepared to go to college if they so choose, they need to be prepared to go to a trade school or a certificate program.

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Mar 4 2014
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: Clifford A. Hudis, MD, American Society of Clinical Oncology

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Several leading cancer organizations recently formed a think tank to address health disparities in cancer research with the goal of improving treatment access and outcomes for underserved populations. “Closing the inequality gap will not happen easily, and won’t get done if any of us goes it alone," said Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS), one of four groups involved, in addition to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR); the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“Cancer mortality rates are decreasing for most minorities, but absolute death rates continue to be higher," said NCI Deputy Director Doug Lowy, MD. Lowy adds that it’s  important to understand the sources of the disparities in order to reduce them.

The goal of the collaboration is to address the fact that that some racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are more likely to develop cancer, less likely to access high-quality cancer care and more likely to die from cancer when compared to others and to whites. For example, the death rate for cancer among African-American males is 33 percent higher than among white males, and the rate for African-American females is 16 percent higher than it is for white females.

“We must move from describing the problems to more quickly identifying and implementing solutions to address the racial and economic-based disparities that continue to affect many cancer patients and families in the United States,” said ASCO president Clifford A. Hudis, MD.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Hudis about the new collaboration.

NewPublicHealth: What key issues help explain—and then overcome—differences in cancer incidence and severity among different populations?

Clifford A. Hudis: We can’t completely disentangle environmental factors, which include nutrition, access to care, general health behaviors, exercise and education, which relates to behaviors such as tobacco use. And of course underlying that is the socioeconomic status. But there also is a burgeoning understanding of the role of genetic variations that may be clustered in various populations and may influence things such as drug metabolism and diseases.

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Feb 28 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Chris Zimmerman

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As the demand for walkable communities keeps growing, experts are moving from asking “If they build it, will they come?” to questioning how to fund the new developments, as well as keeping our eyes on issues such as transit, affordability and improving population health. As of January sharing best practices for those and many other issues is the job of Chris Zimmerman, who recently joined the staff of Smart Growth America as Vice President for Economic Development, following a very long stint as a member of the Arlington County Board in Virginia. Before his post in Arlington, Zimmerman was Chief Economist and Committee Director for Federal Budget and Taxation at the National Conference of State Legislatures. In his new role, Zimmerman will focus on the relationships between smart growth strategies and the economic and fiscal health of communities.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Zimmerman soon after he landed in his new office.

NewPublicHealth: What did you do before joining Smart Growth America?

Chris Zimmerman: For the last 18 years I’ve been a member of the Arlington County Board, the governing body of Arlington County, Virginia, an urban county of about 220,000 people right next to Washington D.C. The county functions as a comprehensive local government, with functions from school funding to land use and development to standard municipal functions such as parks and recreation, public safety, waste removal and managing public infrastructure. We don’t run the schools, but the funds for the schools are part of the county budget, at a cost of a little more than $1 billion annually.

Arlington County has become a model for transit-oriented development that is studied by folks around the country and even around the world, particularly because of the way the county has chosen to develop around the Metro system. That includes the initial commitment to be involved in Metro Rail, to fund underground Metro stations and then to focus development around them, beginning even before the ideas of the vocabulary of Smart Growth and urbanism had really gotten started, decades ago.

Prior to serving on the county board, I served on the county’s planning commission and a number of other commissions. So I’ve had about 20 to 25 years of involvement in the development of every aspect of the community, including housing, planning development and economic development, and even agencies such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs Metro Rail and Metro Bus and every other regional transportation planning body there is here in Washington. I was involved in a lot of regional transportation issues that obviously were fundamental to our county because of the way we chose to develop and because of where we’re located. There are seven crossings of the Potomac River and five of them go through Arlington, so although there are a couple hundred thousand people in Arlington, there’s a million and a half or so in northern Virginia and large numbers of them go through Arlington every day.

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Feb 27 2014
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Future of Public Health: Q&A with Azmina Lakhani, MD, MPH

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Future of Public Health is an ongoing series focused on the emerging faces in the world of public health. We spoke with Azmina Lakhani, MD, MPH, about what helped lead her to the field and where she hopes to go from here.

NPH: What’s your educational background in public health?

Azmina Lakhani: I went to the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy for high school, and then I did medical school, undergraduate and public health all at Northwestern University in Chicago. I received a BA in psychology and global health as an undergrad and then for the next five years I attended medical school and earned a Master’s in Public Health, as well.

NPH: This seems like something that you went into knowing full well that this is what you’re interested in. What was it that encouraged you to pursue a degree and a career in public health?

Lakhani: I had sort of been interested in health care in general in high school, and I wasn’t really sure whether I was going to do research or clinical work or public health work, but in college I really started becoming interested in public health. First through global health, I started learning about different health care systems abroad and doing some volunteer work in Ecuador and Mexico City. That’s really when I got interested in health care delivery systems and also how one can have a greater influence on health.

I appreciate the clinical side. I’m a family medicine resident in training currently, so I love working one-on-one with patients. I also see a lot of value in making an impact on a larger scale—whether that’s how someone gets their health care, what insurance systems we have in place, or the traditional public health things that you think of such as vaccines—that have a really large impact on people. But I think for a shorter answer to your question, I really got interested in college and then built on that in medical school while I was getting my MPH.

NPH: Within the field of public health, what’s your primary interest? What really speaks to you? The global approach?

Lakhani: I think public health is just so awesome because it has so many different facets, and to be honest, I don’t have one particular interest in terms of public health. During my year at the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) I worked on a project called PlayStreets. It’s a very simple idea where we close down streets in the city—neighborhood streets—to allow children with little access to public spaces to have a place to play. The whole intent is to get people out there, meeting their community members, and, in the long term, trying to reduce childhood obesity. It’s kind of a lofty goal, but I am interested in making resources available to people so they can take control of their own health on a broader scale and PlayStreets was one example of that.

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Feb 24 2014
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County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Grants: The Early Learning Network in South Salt Lake, Utah

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The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, will celebrate its fifth anniversary next month. In the last few months, NewPublicHealth has been reporting on the work of programs grantees that are making changes in their communities to help improve population health.

Utah’s Salt Lake County ranks 20th out of 27 counties in social and economic factors. Its high school graduation rate is 72 percent, below the state rate of 76 percent. Approximately 19 percent of the county’s children live in poverty, compared with 16 percent state wide.

South Salt Lake, a city in Salt Lake County, has many resources and assets that make it a great place to live. However, the city’s residents also deal with challenges similar to those faced by individuals living in the elsewhere in the country. Nearly half of South Salt Lake’s residents live in homes with annual household incomes less than $35,000. Among similar-sized communities in Utah, South Salt Lake has some of the highest rates of obesity, chronic cigarette smoking, binge drinking, mental illness and prescription drug abuse. In previous years, South Salt Lake has had the highest rate of violent crime in Utah, but over the past three years the city has noticed a 76 percent decrease in gang-related juvenile crime and a drop in overall crime of 23 percent.

In spite of these challenges, the schools, community partners and the City of South Salt Lake share a common goal to ensure all of the city’s kids are performing on grade level, graduating high school and pursuing a post-secondary opportunity. To create a foundation to allow children to achieve these goals, United Way of Salt Lake, the City of South Salt Lake and numerous other partners have created the Early Learning Network, a comprehensive, integrated early learning system for children from birth to age five. The program is critical because research shows that evidence-based investments in children from birth to age five improve school readiness; lower rates of crime, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and obesity; are essential to academic achievement; and have a direct impact on people’s health and financial well-being.

The goal of the Early Learning Network is to make sure that by the time a child enters kindergarten, he or she will be ready to learn.

The Early Learning Network is a recipient of a County Health Rankings and Roadmaps community grant. Grantees are funded to work with diverse coalitions of policy-makers, business, education, health care, public health and community organizations to improve the education system in ways that also better the health of the community. Roadmaps to Health grants support more than two dozen projects across the United States that aim to create healthier places for individuals and families to thrive. The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants project is a critical component of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Elizabeth Garbe and Chris Ellis of United Way of Salt Lake.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the Early Learning Network.

Chris Ellis: The Early Learning Network is a coalition of early childhood providers, basic needs groups, government agencies and health organizations. The primary goals of the group are to ensure that kids are demonstrating age-appropriate development and entering kindergarten ready to learn. The Early Learning Network is focused on a specific geography, the City of South Salt Lake. It is a great example of collective impact, as non-profits, businesses and government agencies are working together to determine the most effective way to support children ages 0-5 in this community.

The Network has discussed baseline measures to better understand what services are needed to support the community. Collecting data to set a baseline is essential in order to demonstrate whether we are making any progress on our two goals.

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Jan 30 2014
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: James McDonough, Chair of NACo's Healthy Counties Initiative

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NewPublicHealth is on the ground at the NACo 2014 Healthy Counties Initiative Forum. The theme of the forum this year is “Improving Health in a Climate of Change.” Ahead of the meeting we spoke with James McDonough, county commissioner in Ramsey, Minn., and chair of the Healthy Counties initiative about the meeting and the health changes he is seeing at the county level.

NewPublicHealth: Can you tell us how the NACo Healthy Counties Initiative got its start?

James McDonough: Three years ago the president of NACo at that time, Lenny Eliason, from Athens County, Ohio, really was concerned about how the majority of health care dollars were being spent on treating preventable conditions and the whole issue of the wellbeing of our constituents and our employees. So he elevated the issue of wellness and health in counties as a presidential initiative. Typically those are short term and last for a year or two, but NACo has embraced this and has continued this on as a task force to really embed it in the work that we do—elevating how counties can have an impact on wellness in communities.

NPH: What are the current goals?

McDonough: To really elevate and get the county commissioners and county managers throughout the country to just pause and take a look at what they're doing and what they could be doing. We’ve been talking about how we can do a better job supporting counties that are already doing great work in this area and helping share those best practices, and then helping counties that haven’t really taken a look at what their role is. That can help us have a better impact on getting ahead of some of the major preventable diseases in our communities.

NPH: How important is county-level action when it comes to health?

McDonough: For the most part, counties really are responsible for the public health departments within their communities. Throughout the country we operate almost 1,000 county hospitals and close to 700 county nursing homes, so we have a lot of responsibility for public health and—just as important—we employ more than 30 million people throughout the country.

Action, responsibility and efforts vary county to county, but for example, in Ramsey County, Minnesota, where I’m the County Commissioner, we run the public health department working with our cities, the state and with the federal government. So for us it’s a really big opportunity to be the convener as well to lead the Healthy Cities Initiatives as well to a larger regional more focused and concentrated effort.

NPH: The focus of the forum includes some critical topics such as behavioral health and key health issues in jails. How much of a financial burden do these health issues place on counties?

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Jan 16 2014
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The Links Between Education and Health: An Interview with Steven Woolf

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A new policy brief and video released recently by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show that Americans without a high school diploma are living sicker, shorter lives than ever before, and the links between education and health matter more now than ever before.

While overall life expectancy has increased throughout the industrialized world, life expectancy for Americans is now decreasing for whites with fewer than 12 years of education—especially for white women. Additionally, lower rates of education tend to translate into much higher rates of disease and disability, and place greater strains on mental health.

“I don’t think most Americans know that children with less education are destined to live sicker and die sooner,” says Steven H. Woolf, MD, director of the VCU Center on Society and Health. “It should concern parents and it should concern policy leaders.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Woolf about the new issue brief and video, and the critical need to look at the health impacts of education.

NewPublicHealth: How does the policy brief expand on what was already known about the connection between education and health?

Steven Woolf: We already knew that there was an important relationship between education and health, and that people with limited education have worse health outcomes. The focus now is on the fact that this disparity is getting wider, so the lack of a good education has more severe health consequences nowadays than it did in the past.

NPH: What accounts for the impact of education on health?

Woolf: Some people very superficially think that the reason people with an inadequate education have worse health outcomes is they didn't get a good health education in school, and they didn't learn that smoking was bad for your health, for example. Probably a much more important factor is what we call the “downstream” benefits of education. In a knowledge economy like we have these days, having a good education—a college education or an advanced degree—is very important for getting good jobs, jobs that have better benefits including health insurance coverage, and higher earnings that allow people to afford a healthier lifestyle and to live in healthier neighborhood.

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Dec 18 2013
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Where Polio Remains a Threat: Q&A with Sona Bari, World Health Organization

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While it has been decades since polio was a critical threat for much of the developed world, the disease—a virus that can spread from person to person and affect the brain and spinal cord with the potential for paralysis—still causes disease and death in the developing world. Earlier this year cases were reported in Syria, while in Israel the polio virus was found in soil likely from human waste infected with the disease, prompting a revaccination campaign among children age 5 and under. Polio has continued to spread in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan, and has been reintroduced and continues to spread in Chad and in the Horn of Africa after the spread of the virus was previously stopped. Other countries have seen small numbers of cases recently after no cases for decades.

Because even a small spread of the disease could reach the United States if infected individuals carry the virus here, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) several years ago made polio one focus of their Emergency Operations Center. CDC staff work with the World Health Organization and foreign health departments on vaccination campaigns aimed at fully eradicating the disease.

>>Bonus Content: View the CDC's infographic, "The Time to Eradicate Polio is Now."

NewPublicHealth spoke recently with Sona Bari, senior communications officer at the World Health Organization about the efforts underway to eradicate polio globally.

NPH: How are you able to detect polio outbreaks?

Sona Bari: We have a global surveillance system for polio and know from it that since 1988 the reduction of the disease has been over 99 percent. Polio is now endemic, which means indigenous polio virus transmission has never been stopped in parts of three countries: Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. So the surveillance is important because you can get polio down to very low levels like you do now, but it can reemerge. To completely eradicate polio you have to have an effective intervention, which is largely by vaccination. And you can be bring polio under very tight control by massive vaccination, but the virus is very good at finding children who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, and in Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan we still have large groups of unvaccinated children. So the reason that polio transmission has not been stopped in these areas is that not enough children are vaccinated.

NPH: Why is there insufficient vaccination in those countries?

Bari: The basic reason is the quality of vaccination activities. Do these countries have decent health systems—strong routine immunization systems where children are regularly taken to a medical facility for their immunizations? When there are mass vaccination campaigns, are we reaching all children? Then there are, on top of that, layers of political complexities. In one part of Pakistan, for example, there is a ban on polio vaccinations by the local warlords. So there are access and security issues, layered on top of the difficultly of reaching all who need vaccines in countries such as Nigeria or Pakistan. That said, we know that these circumstances are not unique. They may differ from country to country, and each country does have a unique combination of the obstacles, but polio has been eradicated in countries that are far poorer than Nigeria or Pakistan, that have had worse conflict and that have perhaps much worse health systems. So it can be done.

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Dec 17 2013
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: Litjen Tan, Immunization Action Coalition

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A new report from Trust for America’s Health finds that despite recommendations by medical experts about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, an estimated 45,000 adults and 1,000 children die from vaccine-preventable diseases each year in the United States.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Litjen (L.J) Tan, MS, PhD, chief strategy officer of the Immunization Action Coalition, to ask about ongoing efforts to improve immunization rates among all age groups across the nation. The Coalition works to increase immunization rates and prevent disease by creating and distributing educational materials for health professionals and the public and facilitates communication about the safety, efficacy, and use of vaccines within the broad immunization community of patients, parents, health care organizations, and government health agencies. The Coalition is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

NewPublicHealth: What are the critical gaps in immunization in the United States—for children and adults?

Litjen Tan: Immunization rates are really high in our childhood population, but generally not at all high in the adult population, though for some vaccines the rates are improving. We are also not doing very well for adolescents. On the broader level I think what the immunization rates reflect is the state of preventive care in the United States when you come out of childhood, which is why I think the Affordable Care Act really is a great boon. We’ve got this wonderful preventive care model for our kids; we take our kids in, we get them their shots, they get protected and we’ve got high coverage rates generally over 90 percent for all major vaccines. We have almost no vaccine-preventable disease in the United States except for instances linked to pockets of populations that haven’t been vaccinated—as we’ve seen recently with measles.

But then we get to adolescence we have this breakdown. Rates for HPV vaccination are not so good. Our meningococcal vaccination rates are not where they should be and neither are the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster rates in adolescents. What happens with the adolescents is parents don’t necessarily bring them in for prevention checkups anymore. We bring them in when there’s a problem or when they need a school sports visit, and so we plant in adolescents this idea that care is no longer about prevention but care is now about acute care, and that persists into adulthood. This is the thinking that stops us from saying, “hey, do I need my vaccines? When should I get them?”

We need to make sure that our adolescents get the idea that vaccines prevent disease and that they actually do have vaccines that are recommended for them and then I think we’ll begin to see an appreciation of immunizations for adults as well.

NPH: Do we need to target both parents and the adolescents themselves?

Tan: Absolutely, but there’s a lot of discussion about how we do that. It gets a little tricky because we push autonomy of the adolescent, and we have a precedent in public health—discussions between providers and adolescents about sexually transmitted infections—but there are a lot of legislative and regulatory barriers against directly talking to an adolescent in the absence of a parent.

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Dec 10 2013
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Fifteen Years after Tobacco Settlement, States Falling Short in Funding Tobacco Prevention: Q&A with Danny McGoldrick

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On November 23, 1998, 46 states settled their lawsuits against the nation’s major tobacco companies to recover tobacco-related health care costs, joining four states—Mississippi, Texas, Florida and Minnesota—that had reached earlier, individual settlements.

These settlements require the tobacco companies to make annual payments to the states in perpetuity, with total payments estimated at $246 billion over the first 25 years.

Yesterday a coalition of health advocacy groups released the latest edition of A Broken Promise to Our Kids, an annual report on state use of tobacco funds for tobacco prevention and cessation efforts. As in years past, the report finds that most states fall short in the amount of money they allocate to prevent kids from smoking and to help current smokers quit.

The groups that jointly issued the report include the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

Key findings of the 2013 report include:

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  • Over the past 15 years, states have spent just 2.3 percent of their total tobacco-generated revenue on tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
  • The states this year will collect $25 billion from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes, but will spend just 1.9 percent of it—$481.2 million—on tobacco prevention programs. This means the states are spending less than two cents of every dollar in tobacco revenue to fight tobacco use.
  • States are falling short of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended funding levels for tobacco prevention programs. Altogether, the states have budgeted just 13 percent of the $3.7 billion the CDC recommends.
  • Only two states—Alaska and North Dakota—currently fund tobacco prevention programs at the CDC-recommended level.

To discuss the ramifications of the latest edition of the Broken Promises report, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Danny McGoldrick, vice president of research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

NewPublicHealth: Can you give us some background on the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement?

Danny McGoldrick: This is the 15th anniversary of the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, when 46 states and the District of Columbia settled their lawsuits against the tobacco companies mostly to recover the costs that they’d incurred treating smoking-caused disease in their states. Four other states had settled individually with the tobacco companies prior to the Master Settlement Agreement, and so this provided for some restrictions on tobacco company marketing; they promised never to market to kids again, which is ironic, but it also resulted in the tobacco companies sending about $250 billion over just the first 25 years of the settlement for the states to spend as they saw fit. They left that to the province of the state legislators and governors to decide how those funds should be spent.

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