Category Archives: Q&A
Future of Public Health is an ongoing series focused on the emerging faces in the world of public health. We spoke with Erin Yastrow, a Bachelor of Science in Public Health candidate at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, about what helped lead her to the field, her work as a leader in Tulane’s undergraduate student government and where she hopes to go from here.
NewPublicHealth: What encouraged you to pursue a degree and career in public health?
Erin Yastrow: I’ve always been interested in the field of health. I was actually thinking about going into nutrition when I first started looking at undergraduate schools and I had a family friend at one school who had worked in nutrition, but then ended up working at the School of Public Health. When I met with her, she encouraged me to pursue public health with an emphasis on nutrition because it would give me more opportunities. From there, I started my exploration into what public health was and I realized how interesting and fascinating it was and how it was applicable to so many more areas besides just nutrition.
In the meantime, I had also applied to Tulane. I wasn’t really considering it that much because I didn’t know that much about it. My mom was looking through their brochure and told me that they have a great public health program. So, I started looking and I realized how established the Bachelor’s and graduate programs were. They also had an option where you could pursue a combined degree and it was really appealing to me.
NPH: Are you pursuing a Master’s as well?
Yastrow: Not currently, but I’m actually attending Johns Hopkins next year for a Master’s in Public Health. Tulane does have a really great program where you can do a combined degree with your Bachelor’s and Master’s. Part of my undergraduate core, which has now changed, included taking five graduate classes, so I took some classes at that School of Public Health here.
NPH: Within the field of public health, what are your primary interests and why?
Yastrow: That has also sort of shifted as I’ve learned more about public health. As I mentioned, I started out really interested in nutrition and obesity prevention. As I took more electives and did some internships, I became more interested in the similar patterns of risk factors that exist in obesity and other epidemics that aren’t always considered to be health problems, such as violence. That has developed into an interest about addressing inequalities in health and the social determinants, such as socioeconomic status, education and race and how those, to me, are unjust reasons that people are more likely to develop further health conditions.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was a partner agency for last week’s Preparedness Summit in Atlanta. NewPublicHealth spoke with Brooke Courtney, Senior Regulatory Counsel in the FDA Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats, about how the agency plans for disasters it hopes never occur. Previously, Courtney was the Preparedness Director at the Baltimore City Health Department and in that role oversaw all of the public health preparedness and response activities for Baltimore City.
NewPublicHealth: What did you speak about at the Summit last week?
Brooke Courtney: FDA views the summit as an unparalleled opportunity each year to engage with stakeholders at the state, local and federal levels—to share with them updates from the federal side and also for us to get feedback from them about challenges and successes. We engage with stakeholders on a regular basis, but this is really the meeting where the largest number of people involved in preparedness come together, and it’s a great opportunity to see people face-to-face.
We feel really fortunate to have been able to take part in the summit for the past few years. For this year’s summit FDA served on the Planning Committee and also participated in the medical countermeasure policy town hall with federal colleagues from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the national security staff, all of whom we work with closely.
Another thing that we like to do at the summit each year is to give a more in-depth update through a session with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) legal counsel on the authorities that we have that we use related to the emergency use of medical countermeasures during emergencies. This year’s session was especially exciting for us because it was an opportunity for us to discuss with stakeholders some new authorities that were established in 2013 to enhance preparedness and response flexibility.
For example, we can now clearly issue emergency use authorizations in advance of emergencies, which is really a critical medical countermeasure tool for preparedness purposes. Through these flexibilities, for example, we’ve issued three emergency use authorizations in the past year for three different in-vitro diagnostic tests to address the emerging threats of H7 and 9 influenza and MERS-CoV.
NPH: What are the key responsibilities the FDA has in helping to prepare the United States for possible disasters?
Courtney: As an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the FDA, at its core, is a public health agency. FDA’s mission is to protect and promote public health in a number of critical ways. We’re responsible for regulating more than $1 trillion in consumer goods annually, ranging from medical products such as drugs and vaccines to tobacco and food products.
At this year’s Preparedness Summit, which met last week in Atlanta, the American Red Cross was a first-time partner for the annual event which brings together more than 1,000 preparedness experts from around the country.
“It was important for us to partner with the American Red Cross because they have a major role and responsibility in disasters,” said Jack Herrmann, the Summit chair and Chief of Public Health Preparedness at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the lead partner for the Summit. “We felt that it was important that the public health and health care communities understand the Red Cross’ role and authority during a disaster and look for ways to foster and build partnerships [among] local health departments, state health departments and American Red Cross chapters across the country.”
Just prior to the Summit, NewPublicHealth conducted an interview by email with Russ Paulsen, Executive Director, Community Preparedness and Resilience Services of the American Red Cross.
NewPublicHealth: What are the key issues that communities should focus on now to get themselves better prepared for a disaster should it occur?
Russ Paulsen: Everyone has a role to play in getting communities better prepared for disasters.
As a first step, individuals, organizations and communities should understand the problem: What hazards are in their area? How likely are any of these hazards to become actual disasters? What have people already put in place to deal with them? Local Red Cross chapters can help with this assessment.
Once people understand the problem, the next step is to make a plan. Plan what to do in case you are separated from your family or household members during an emergency, and plan what to do if you must evacuate your home. Coordinate your household plan with your household members’ schools, daycare facilities, workplaces and with your community’s emergency plans.
Each year during the first week of April, the American Public Health Association (APHA) hosts National Public Health Week, an opportunity to help communities across the United States highlight issues that are critical to improving the health of the nation. This year’s theme is “Public Health: Start Here”—entry points for making us a healthier nation. Each day this week has its own theme and NewPublicHeatlth will have a post about each one:
- Monday, April 7: Be healthy from the start. From maternal health and school nutrition to emergency preparedness, public health starts at home. Let us show you around. (Read a previous NewPublicHealth post, County Health Rankings — Nurse-Family Partnership: Q&A with Elly Yost, about how Rockingham County, N.C. is working to improve maternal health.)
- Tuesday, April 8: Don't panic. Disaster preparedness starts with community-wide commitment and action. We're here to help you weather the unexpected.
- Wednesday, April 9: Get out ahead. Prevention is now a nationwide priority. Let us show you where you fit in.
- Thursday, April 10: Eat well. The system that keeps our nation's food safe and healthy is complex. We can guide you through the choices.
- Friday, April 11: Be the healthiest nation in one generation. Best practices for community health come from around the globe.
In observance of National Public Health Week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association about National Public Health Week 2014.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the 2014 National Public Health Week.
Georges Benjamin: We have an overarching theme, and it’s “Public Health: Start Here.” The intent is to get people to “just do it.” Often all of us have a tendency to kind of ruminate over what we want to do to improve the public’s health, and what we’re trying to emphasize this year is that there is enormous opportunity for people just to get up and do it. The evidence base is there, the opportunity is there, and so we’re just getting people to start improving their health.
We have five themes for the week. Monday is around early health such as maternal and child health; school nutrition; and conversations at home about how to make every family healthier. Tuesday is focused on emergency preparedness and disaster preparedness. On Wednesday we’ll be on prevention, including clinical and community preventive health services. Thursday’s focus is on eating well with a focus on the nutritional aspects of health. And Friday we look at becoming the healthiest nation in just one generation. Like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Public Health Association is focused on a creating a culture of health and creating a healthy environment for everyone.
Behavioral health was a frequent topic at this year’s Preparedness Summit in Atlanta for both presenters and attendees, who focus on helping people cope with stress during a disaster as well as on mental health conditions which can be exacerbated by the stress of an emergency. Thomas Bornemann, EdD, has been the director of mental health programs at the Carter Center in Atlanta since 2002. The Carter Center is the philanthropic foundation of former president Jimmy Carter and his wife, and focuses primarily on peace and health initiatives globally and in the United States.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Bornemann about the Center’s mental health programs and challenges that lie ahead. We spoke with Bornemann several days before the shooting this week at Fort Hood.
NewPublicHealth: What are the key mental health projects underway at the Carter Center?
Thomas Bornemann: We’re involved in a number of issues at the local level, national level and globally. One of our major global programs is a program in Liberia, West Africa, where we’ve been working on scaling up services in this post-conflict, low-income country. We are in our fourth year of five, and we’re providing three services: We’re training mental health workers because their mental health system was decimated after the war; we have helped them develop a national mental health policy plan and a national mental health law that will go to the legislature for approval this year we hope; and we’ve been working on the issues of stigma and discrimination against people with mental illnesses and helping to develop support for family caregivers who provide the lion’s share of the care.
In the United States we’ve been working for years on Mrs. Carter’s number one healthy policy priority, which has been the implementation of mental health parity legislation which passed in 2008. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has been working on final regulations since then which spell out the terms and conditions of parity. We’ve been working on monitoring that through the years, and we were very proud that in November Secretary Kathleen Sebelius came here to announce the release of the regulations out of respect for Mrs. Carter’s long commitment to parity legislation. We’ll continue to monitor the parity efforts as they become implemented through the Affordable Care Act.
Paul Biddinger, MD, FACEP, director of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Exercise Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, was a member of this morning’s opening panel on disaster preparedness at the 2014 Preparedness Summit. NewPublicHealth spoke with Biddinger ahead of the conference on what students and communities need to know and do to be best prepared for a disaster.
NewPublicHealth: Is it a requirement for students in graduate school for public health degrees to take at least one class in disaster preparedness?
Paul Biddinger: It is not. They have the option, but it is not a required element of what they have to take.
NPH: How do you think recent disasters have informed what students and public health staff members need to know about response?
Paul Biddinger: I think some of what students need to know has always been the case—but maybe has been underscored by recent events—which is that no matter what you do in public health you may be needed as part of the response, and whether you're working in maternal and child health or smoking cessation or HIV/AIDS, when a disaster happens it’s all hands on deck. And I think the hurricanes, the pandemic and other events have showed that often we need to reach well outside the traditional emergency response or preparedness work staff in public health, and so everyone has to be flexible, has to be able to participate in the response. I think in order to participate in the response you have to know that there is an emergency operations plan, what your role in it would be, how you would get information, to whom you would be responsible or to whom you would report. And those are things that you should know ahead of time.
I think the other thing we see when we see these wide-area disasters like we saw in Sandy, like we saw in Katrina, is the central role that public health can play in coordinating the health response—that multiple hospitals, long-term care facilities, out-patient facilities such as dialysis centers all need to be coordinated in their response to achieve the best possible health outcomes for the community. And public health is in a particularly strong place in the community to be able to help make sure that each of those individual participants is pointed in the same direction and is leveraging the community resources as best they can.
Rockingham County, N.C., is one of several counties profiled in videos produced for the 2014 report of the County Health Rankings, a joint project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and released yesterday. The Rankings shows how communities across the country are doing and how they can improve on their health.
Rockingham evolved from a wealthy county to a poor one very quickly after losing two major industries only a couple of decades ago. The community suffers from high general smoking rates, high obesity rates and high rates of smoking during pregnancy. When the 2010 County Health Rankings were released, Rockingham was ranked at 71 out of 100 counties on health measures. The community's poor standing served as a wake-up call.
One new program set to begin this spring is the Nurse-Family Partnership, a decades-old, evidence-based community health program that serves low-income women pregnant with their first child.
Nurse-Family Partnership is based on the work of David Olds, MD, a professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and preventive medicine at the University of Colorado Denver. While working in an inner-city day care center in the early 1970s, Olds was struck by the risks and difficulties in the lives of low-income children and over the next decades tested nurse home visitation for low income families in randomized controlled trials in Elmira, New York, Memphis, Tennessee and Denver. Results have shown that the program improved pregnancy outcomes; improved the health and development of children; and helped parents create a positive life course for themselves. There are now Nurse-Family Partnership programs in 43 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and six Indian tribal communities.
In the Nurse-Family Partnership programs, the mothers receive ongoing visits from the nurses in their homes from the first trimester until the baby is two years old. Program goals include:
- Improve pregnancy outcomes by helping the new mothers engage in good preventive health practices, including comprehensive prenatal care from their healthcare providers, improving their diets and reducing their use of cigarettes, alcohol and illegal substances.
- Improve child health and development by helping parents provide responsible and competent care.
- Improve the economic self-sufficiency of the family by helping parents develop a vision for their own future, plan future pregnancies, continue their education and find work.
According to Heather Adams, executive director of the Rockingham County Partnership for Children, there are about 5,000 children under the age of five in Rockingham County. Over half live in poverty and are born to mothers under the age of 20 and many of the children are in single parent households.
“The County Health Rankings really gave us some concrete data to show us what we knew anecdotally was really true,” said Adams. “Nurse-Family Partnership really rose to the top as a really strong program that could help meet some of our needs.”
As part of its County Health Rankings coverage, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Elly Yost, MSN, PNP, director of nursing practice at the Nurse-Family Partnership national office in Denver, Co. Yost is a pediatric nurse practitioner who previously worked in hospitals and community practice settings.
Tomorrow, March 25, the day after World Tuberculosis Day, the Public Broadcasting Program Frontline will present TB Silent Killer a new documentary that looks at tuberculosis in Swaziland, the country with the highest incidence of the disease.
While many people, especially in the United States, think tuberculosis has long since been eradicated, there are in fact more than 8 million new infections every year, many of them virulent new drug-resistant strains that are passed—throughout the world—through a cough or a sneeze. According to the World Health Organization, tuberculosis has become the second-leading cause of death from an infectious disease on the planet.
Jezza Neumann, the filmmaker who created TB Silent Killer, tells the story of several people in Swaziland suffering daily from the disease, including ten-year-old Nokubegha, whose mother recently died of a multidrug resistant strain of tuberculosis and whose 17-year-old brother cares for her.
“In Swaziland, a quarter of all adults are HIV-positive, which means their immune systems are compromised and especially susceptible to TB infection,” said Neumann, “But globalization and international travel mean that these infections have the potential to spread all over the world.”
NewPublicHealth spoke by phone with Jezza Neumann a few days before the documentary was scheduled to air on Frontline (Check local PBS schedules here.)
NewPublicHealth: Why did you choose tuberculosis as your topic?
Jezza Neumann: The idea being to make films that make a difference and give voice to the voiceless. In doing so, we’ve made and kept relationships with nonprofits and NGOs and other organizations and look to find the issue that’s hidden in the background that no one is hearing about, that’s not getting the platform that it needs.
One of the organizations we’d worked a lot with is MSF, Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders as it’s known over here. The press officer at the U.K. office knew that Doctors Without Borders had been struggling to get the issue of tuberculosis out on the mainstream. People had done small reports but she knew there was a big impact possible with a documentary because the reality is if you combine the facts, stats and figures in documents with a film that has a human face and a human cost of those facts, stats and figures, it becomes something so much bigger. The documentary becomes a platform that has a life far further reaching than just the transmission.
Louis W. Sullivan, MD, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, recently wrote a memoir, Breaking Ground: My Life in Medicine, that offers a wide view of Sullivan’s experiences as a medical student in Boston, the founding dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and as the country’s chief health officer. NewPublicHealth recently sat down with Sullivan to discuss the book and his thoughts on the history and future of improving the nation’s health.
NewPublicHealth: Looking back, what can you share about the highlights of your career in medicine and health promotion?
Louis Sullivan: Highlights would certainly include my time at the Boston University School of Medicine. That had many significant points. It was my first time living in an integrated environment because up until that time I spent all of my life in the South. Working in an environment without concerns about discrimination and bias, that was a great experience; my classmates and the faculty at Boston University were all welcoming.
Another highlight was later when I was a research fellow in hematology in the Harvard unit at Boston City Hospital. I had a paper accepted for presentation at a major research conference in Atlantic City. It was a paper showing that heavy drinking suppressed the production of red blood cells by the bone marrow.
And of course a tremendous highlight was going back to Morehouse College, my alma mater, to start the Morehouse School of Medicine. I was returning home in a sense. I had gained experience as a faculty member at Boston University, had been steeped in medicine and now I was in the process of establishing a new institution to train young people for the future.
NewPublicHealth: What changes have you created and supported to improve population health.
Sullivan: Well, certainly becoming Secretary of Health and Human Services was indeed an honor and a great opportunity for me, and it was also a very challenging experience.
In the late ‘80s, when I became Secretary, AIDS was a new disease. There were many demonstrations by various advocacy groups, groups that didn’t trust the government, and we had to work to develop a relationship with them. I convinced President Bush to put $1.6 billion in his budget to be used for research on this new disease, to develop mechanisms for treating the disease and to educate the public. And as a result of that initial investment and ones that followed, this disease has been transformed from a virtual death sentence to a chronic disease which is controlled by medication. And people, rather than living a few months, which was the case once the diagnosis was made in 1989, are now living for decades with the virus suppressed on medication, raising their families, working, earning wages, paying taxes. So that has been really a very satisfying outcome from that experience. And we hopefully are close to finding a cure for this disease as well.
County Health Rankings & Roadmaps — Transforming Public Schools in Baltimore: Q&A with Robert English
Years of research shows that school facilities in poor condition—including faulty heating and cooling systems, poor indoor air quality, and deficient science labs—significantly reduce academic achievement and graduation rates. On the other hand, new and renovated school buildings that are equipped with modern science labs; art and music resources; and other amenities lead to improved educational outcomes. Research has also shown that when students attend high-quality schools they are more likely to be engaged in school and have higher attendance, test scores and graduation rates.
The public schools in Baltimore, Md., have the lowest graduation rates and oldest facilities in the state. A recent report described 85 percent of Baltimore’s 162 public school buildings as being in either poor or very poor condition.
While graduation rates in Baltimore public schools have increased significantly in recent years, thanks to better funding and other academic-focused efforts, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) aims to further improve the graduation rate, educational outcomes, overall health and economic prosperity of Baltimore residents. The goal is to integrate the rebuilding and renovation of every city school into the district’s education reform efforts. BUILD and its partners, ACLU of Maryland and Child First, want to change state and city policies to support school construction and renovation.
BUILD is the recipient of a County Health Rankings & Roadmaps community health grant to educate and engage parents, school leaders, and leaders from other sectors such as business, the community and faith leaders about the need for updated schools to get the best education outcomes for Baltimore’s students. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Robert English, BUILD’s lead organizer, about the group’s recent successful efforts.
>>How healthy is your county? Join the live webcast event on March 26 to celebrate the launch of the 2014 County Health Rankings and to spotlight communities taking action to build a culture of health across America.
NPH: What’s the link between improving the school infrastructure and improving the graduation rates?
English: A leading indicator of students graduating from high school is that they feel safe and challenged in their schools. We’ve talked to thousands of students and families in Baltimore City and by the time students here in Baltimore get into the 9th grade and 10th grade, they have often lost interest in high school and many of them have said that it’s because of the facilities. We didn’t have science labs in many cases or other core components of a quality education to send kids to college.
This campaign is about building the 21st century learning environments that can prepare young people not only to graduate, but to go to college. For BUILD this is not a bricks-and-mortar campaign—this is about providing the educational space where every child has an opportunity to learn, and then secondly this is about bringing people together around creating high expectations for students. We’ve continued to organize in the schools that are in year one through year three of school construction, and the constituency we are building will be here to hold our schools accountable to providing real results.