Category Archives: Public Health

Dec 27 2013
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New Infographic, Premium Payment Extension Will Help People Signing up for Health Insurance Coverage

Americans Health Insurance Plans, the trade association of many of the U.S. health insurance companies, has released a very easy to understand new infographic that helps simplify the steps for buying health insurance on the federal or state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.

The new infographic is not the only bonus from the trade association this season. Last week the group announced that most insurers are extending the deadline for people purchasing coverage to pay their premiums to January 10, so long as signup for the plan is before January 1. Coverage for those signups will be retroactive to January 1.

Dec 26 2013
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Help the Homeless: What You Can Do

A new survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors released earlier this month found that in many U.S. cities homelessness increased by as much as 4 percent this year. The permanent solution to homelessness will require the concerted efforts of companies, communities, legislatures and individuals and includes affordable housing, jobs and economic policies and strong mental health support. That’s a lot to tackle, but there are some things individuals can do to make life a bit easier — and healthier — for homeless people in their communities.

Here are a few suggestions from online charitable giving site justGive.org, which has a full list of 35 ideas on its site:

  1. Buy Street Sheet or Street SenseThese biweekly newspapers are sold in almost every major American city and are intended to help the homeless help themselves by offering them economic opportunities and elevating their voices in the discussion on how to end homelessness. For every paper sold, the participants earn five cents deposited in a special savings account earmarked for rent.
  2. Bring food: When you pass someone who asks for change, offer him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with you when you leave.
  3. Give recyclables: In localities where there is a "bottle law," collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often a viable source of income for homeless people. It is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to homeless people instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection (or, worse, not recycling at all!).
  4. Volunteer your professional services: No matter what you do for a living, you can help the homeless with your on-the-job talents and skills. Those with clerical skills can train those with little skills. Doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and dentists can treat the homeless in clinics. Lawyers can help with legal concerns. The homeless' needs are bountiful — your time and talent won't be wasted. There are many different volunteer organizations through which you can channel your efforts.
  5. Volunteer for follow-up programs: Some homeless people, particularly those who have been on the street for a while, may need help with fundamental tasks such as paying bills, balancing a household budget, or cleaning. Follow-up programs to give the formerly homeless further advice, counseling, and other services — and are always in need of volunteers.
  6. Create lists of needed donations: Call all the organizations in your community that aid the homeless and ask them what supplies they need on a regular basis. Make a list for each organization, along with its address, telephone number, and the name of a contact person. Then mail these lists to community organizations that may wish to help with donations —from religious centers to children's organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
  7. Help the homeless apply for aid - Governmental aid is available for homeless people, but many may not know where to find it or how to apply. Since they don't have a mailing address, governmental agencies may not be able to reach them. You can help by directing the homeless to intermediaries, such as homeless organizations, that let them know what aid is available and help them to apply for it. If you want to be an advocate or intermediary for the homeless yourself, you can contact these organizations as well.

>>Bonus Links:

Dec 24 2013
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Five Safety Tips for a Safer and Healthier Holiday Season

file Give the gift of holiday safety with a dose of prevention. Photo courtesy of wantmorepuppies on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wantmorepuppies/8242328217/sizes/l/

We hate to be the bearers of buzz kill, but folks should think about adding “safety” to their holiday wish lists this year. Researchers at the Consumer Product Safety Commission say there are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season. Last year the most frequently reported holiday accidents seen in emergency departments involved falls (34%), lacerations (11%) and back strains (10%). And from 2009 through 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the first item ignited—resulting in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss for those years. Candle-related fires during holidays between 2009 and 2011 resulted in an estimated 70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss.

Best tips for avoiding Holiday fires: discard sets of holiday lights with evidence of damage such as broken sockets and bare wires; water Christmas trees frequently; and always extinguish candles before leaving a room.

Here are our top five safety tips for the holidays culled from the websites of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration:

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Dec 24 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 24

HUD to Grant Millions in Rental Assistance for Senior Housing Developments
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $14.8 million to preserve affordable rental assistance for elderly tenants living in subsidized properties. This funding is provided through HUD’s Senior Preservation Rental Assistance Contracts and is targeted for properties in HUD’s “Supportive Housing for the Elderly” program, where rental assistance may expire without the new funding. Read more on aging.

U.S. Forest Service Will Waive Some Recreation Fees Five Times in 2014
The U.S. Forest Service will waive fees at most of its day-use recreation sites on: Jan. 20, 2014, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day; President's Day weekend Feb. 15-17; National Get Outdoors Day on June 14; National Public Lands Day on Sept. 27; and Veterans Day weekend from Nov. 8 to 11.

Get Outdoors Days helps to raise awareness that nature encourages healthy, active outdoor fun. In addition to waiving fees, various Forest Service units participate in a variety of public events on agency lands and in nearby cities and towns. Public Lands Day is the nation's largest, single-day volunteer effort in support of public lands. Agency units plan their own events, which range from educational programs to trash pick-up to building trails.

National forests and grasslands include more than 150,000 miles of trails, which include hiking, biking, equestrian and motorized trails, and more than 10,000 developed recreation sites, as well as 57,000 miles of streams, 122 alpine ski areas, 338,000 heritage sites, 9,100 miles of National Scenic Byways, 22 National Recreation Areas, 11 National Scenic Areas, seven National Monuments, one national preserve and one national heritage area.

Many sites are already free; fees that could be waived under the program include picnic grounds and admission to visitor centers. Read more on physical activity.

Healthier Holiday Ideas from the USDA
As its holiday gift, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers some healthy tweaks for consumers to help make holiday celebrations healthier including ideas for lighter cocktail fare, lower sugar and lower fat  recipes for baked goods, and gift-giving ideas that focus on physical activity. Read more on obesity.

Dec 23 2013
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Robocop: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over

If you’re looking for a sneak preview of the movie Robocop, set for release next February, try the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA has paid for a proprietary video that has the cop reminding drivers to stay sober behind the wheel. NHTSA just released the public service announcement as part of its annual Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign, which runs through January 1. 

Last year, according to NHTSA, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased 4.6 percent — 10,322 lives were lost, compared to 9,865 in 2011. The majority of those crashes involved drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or higher — nearly double the legal limit. During last year’s holiday season alone, 830 lives were lost in drunk driving crashes.

The campaign also includes state model guidelines for ignition interlock devices. These devices can be added to the car of a driver with a history of drunk driving. Before starting the vehicle, the driver must breathe into the device and if the driver’s blood alcohol limit is too high, the ignition lock will not allow the car to start.

Previous NHTSA research of convicted drunk drivers show that those with ignition locks installed are 75 percent less likely to repeat the behavior compared to those who do not. The guidelines emphasize several programs to maximize effectiveness – including legislation, education, program administration, and implementation.

“It is unacceptable and downright offensive that anyone would get behind the wheel drunk, let alone at twice the legal limit,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “I urge the states to adopt our new guidelines to protect sober motorists and ensure that individuals convicted of drunk driving learn from their mistakes.”

According to NHTSA, over the past decade, almost two of every five (41 percent) deaths that occur around the New Year’s holiday and the Christmas holiday (37 percent) were alcohol-impaired.

>>Bonus Link: NHTSA has safety tips and information on sober driving during the holidays. View NHTSA's Safety 1n Numbers newsletter for safety tips and information on sober driving during the holidays.

Dec 12 2013
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New Report: Continued Rise in Hunger and Homelessness for 2014

Chefs cooking in restaurant kitchen. Food pantries in 25 cities surveyed had to reduce the amount of food provided because of budget challenges.

Unemployment and poverty top the reasons why homelessness and hunger continue to grow in the U.S., according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors 31st Hunger and Homelessness Survey, released yesterday. “There’s no question that the nation’s economy is on the mend, but there’s also no question that the slow pace of recovery is making it difficult and, for many, impossible, to respond to the growing needs of the hungry and the homeless,” said Tom Cochran, executive director of the Conference of Mayors during a conference call with reporters yesterday about the report.  

The new report is based on surveys of city officials in the 25 cities that make up the Conference’s task force on Hunger and Homelessness, and all but one of the participating cities said requests for help had either gone up or stayed the same as the previous year.

Additional findings of the report include:

  • The number of families and individuals experiencing homelessness increased across the survey cities by an average of 4 percent.
  • More than one in five people needing assistance did not receive it because of insufficient city and donated funds.
  • Because of the increase in requests many emergency kitchens and food pantries in the 25 cities surveyed had to reduce the amount of food provided to individuals or families.  

One positive note in this year’s report was an increase in aid provided to homeless veterans because of targeted efforts by cities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Veterans Administration. Eighty percent of the survey cities were able to find stable housing for some previously homeless veterans.

Many of the 25 survey cities addressed homelessness and hunger problems by adopting innovative programs specific to their communities to address and improve the situation. The Conference of Mayors report includes many examples both to highlight innovation and to serve as models for other cities working to improve the housing and food security conditions of their citizens:

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Nov 20 2013
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How Do You Transform a Community After a Century of Neglect?

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Bithlo, Fla. is a town of 8,000 that is just 30 minutes outside Orlando and not much farther from the “happiest place on Earth” — but is beset by poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and toxic dumps that have infiltrated the drinking water. The water is so bad that it has eroded many residents’ teeth, making it that much harder for them to find jobs. Streets filled with trash, frequent road deaths and injuries from a lack of transportation options and safe places to walk, and dropping out before 10th grade were all the norm.

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In just a short time, a collection of partners and volunteers have begun to reverse some of the decades-old problems Bithlo has faced. And earlier this week, the town that had been forgotten for almost a century was the scene of a hubbub of activity as hundreds of volunteers descended on the town to continue work on “Transformation Village,” Bithlo’s future main street, which will sport a combination library/coffee shop, schools, shops and many other services, all long missing from Bithlo.

Over the last few months, NewPublicHealth has reported on initiatives of the participating members of Stakeholder Health, formerly known as the Health Systems Learning Group. Stakeholder Health is a learning collaborative made up of 43 organizations, including 36 nonprofit health systems, that share innovative practices aimed at improving health and economic viability of communities.

>>Read more on the Stakeholder Health effort to leverage health care systems to improve community health.

One of the Stakeholder Health members is the Adventist Health System, a not-for-profit health care system that has hospitals across the country. Recently, Adventist’s flagship health care provider, Florida Hospital in Orlando, began supporting United Global Outreach (UGO), a non-profit group aimed at building up communities in need, in their four-year-long effort to transform the town of Bithlo.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Tim McKinney, executive vice president of United Global Outreach, and Verbelee Neilsen-Swanson, vice president of community impact at Florida Hospital, about the partnerships and commitment that have gone into Bithlo’s transformation into a town that is looking forward to new housing stock, jobs, stores, better education and improved health outcomes for the its citizens.

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Nov 18 2013
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Ride Sharing: Just Urban Hip or Critical Transportation Alternative?

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Atlantic Cities recently reported on a ride sharing program called Lyft, which requires riders to join up and input credit card information to be eligible for the carpool-like rides. Lyft’s licensed drivers are pinged to pick up passengers whom the system tracks as headed in the same direction as other riders already in the car.

The article focuses on the "cool" factor, and the potential for building social relationships, making it a great solution for college kids or young adults looking for a safe way to get home on nights out—a critical public health service, particularly when research released earlier this year found that more than one-third of designated drivers end up drinking.

But another potential future use could be to help alleviate massive transportation challenges in rural areas, particularly for those with limited income or no access to a car for other reasons. One Department of Transportation study found, "Close to 40 percent of all rural counties are not served by rural transit, while another 28 percent have limited service. And, nearly 57 percent of the rural poor do not own a car, while 1 in every 14 households in rural America has no vehicle." In the future, perhaps ride sharing programs could catch on as a viable transportation option in rural towns far away from the neon lights.  

>>Bonus Link: A second transportation article in Atlantic Cities this week finds that despite the growth in ridership of bike share programs across the country, PBSC, a Montreal-based major supplier of city bikeshare equipment and software faces major transportation woes. PBSC bike share customers include London, D.C. and Chicago, the city with the largest bike-share program in the nation.

Nov 14 2013
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Targeting Job Discrimination Against Former Offenders

file Image courtesy of TakeAction Minnesota

During a town hall meeting in Minnesota last month, the Target Corporation, one of the largest employers in the United States, announced that the company will remove the criminal history question from its initial employment application. While Target has already removed this question in states where it is legally prohibited, this announcement will apply to all U.S. Target locations, even in areas where asking the question is permitted by state or local law. In Minnesota, the Ban the Box law will go into effect January 1, 2014.

“Over the past year, members of the Target team have had many productive conversations with TakeAction Minnesota,” says Molly Snyder, a spokesman for the company. “Many of our discussions have focused on Minnesota’s racial jobs gap and the barriers individuals with criminal records face when seeking employment.”

file Justin Terrell, TakeAction Minnesota

The decision by Target is in part the result of efforts led by the TakeAction Minnesota Education Fund, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Roadmaps to Health community grantee, to address job discrimination based on criminal background. Often tied to significant unemployment throughout the country, studies show that having a criminal record is a barrier to employment opportunities and depresses wages. And data from Minnesota finds that half of all former offenders are unemployed, with the rate higher for ex-offenders of color who disproportionately make up the prison population.

The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants are collaborations that have received two year funding of up to $200,000 to work with diverse coalitions of policy-makers, business, education, health care, public health, and community organizations. The grantees and their partners are pursuing policies or system changes that address the social, economic, and environmental factors that influence how healthy people are and how long they live. The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants project is a major component of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program—a collaboration of RWJF and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

TakeAction Minnesota is using its grant to promote new statewide fair hiring standards for businesses, such as persuading prospective employers to consider criminal records only when they directly relate to the position rather than asking questions on applications that promote blanket rejections. Earlier this year, the Minnesota legislature passed the “ban the box” legislation and it was signed into law in May, making Minnesota the third state in the nation to adopt “ban the box” in both the public and private sectors. Under the new law, an employer will no longer be allowed to include a check box about criminal background on the initial employment application. 

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Justin Terrell, manager of the Justice 4 All program at TakeAction Minnesota, about the intersection of employment and health.

NewPublicHealth: What are the ways in which employment impacts health?

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Nov 14 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 14

DOT and HUD Release Neighborhood Affordability Tool
The U.S. Departments of Housing and Transportation (HUD and DOT, respectively) have released a Location Affordability Portal, a new tool that lets users estimate housing and transportation costs for neighborhoods across the country.

“Many consumers make the mistake of thinking they can afford to live in a certain neighborhood or region just because they can afford the rent or mortgage payment. Housing affordability encompasses much more than that,” said HUD Secretary Donovan. “The combined cost of housing and transportation consumes close to half of a working family’s monthly budget, and the [Portal] will help to better inform consumers, help them save money, and provide them with a broader perspective of their housing and transportation options.”

The new tool was developed with the input of real-estate industry professionals, academics, and staff from HUD and DOT, and uses statistical models that were developed from various sources that capture key neighborhood characteristics including population density, transit and job access, average number of commuters and distance of commutes, average household income and size, median selected monthly owner costs. and median gross rent. Read more on housing and transportation.

Health Index May Reduce Hospital Readmissions
A health risk score used during hospital stays using routine data from hospital electronic medical records may be able to identify patients at high risk of unplanned hospital readmission, according to a study published in Medical Care.

The score is calculated automatically using patient data such as vital signs, nursing assessments, skin condition, heart rhythms and laboratory tests. Lower Rothman Index scores (from a maximum of 100) indicate a higher risk of readmission. The study evaluated the ability of the Rothman Index to predict hospital readmission, based on data from more than 2,700 patients hospitalized during 2011. The researchers found that patients whom the Index calculated as being high risk for readmission were 2.5 times as likely to be readmitted within 30 days of discharge as patients calculated by the Index to be low risk.

About 20 percent of Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, at an estimated cost of $17 billion per year, according to the study authors. Medicare has begun reducing payments by up to 2 percent for hospitals with high readmission rates. Read more on community health.

Rapid Flu Testing in the ER Leads to More Effective Treatment
Using rapid influenza tests to diagnose flu in patients who come to the emergency room results in fewer unnecessary antibiotics, increased prescriptions for antiviral medicines, and fewer additional lab tests compared to patients diagnosed with influenza without testing, according to a new study the Journal of the Pediatrics Infectious Diseases Society.

Among patients diagnosed with influenza without rapid testing, 23 percent of the emergency department visits included a prescription for antibiotics, which are not effective in to treat influenza because it is a viral infection. However, for patients who were diagnosed by rapid testing, only 11 percent of visits resulted in the patient getting antibiotics. Additional laboratory tests, including chest X-rays, blood tests, and urinalysis, were also ordered less frequently for patients whose influenza illness was diagnosed with a rapid test.

"While other studies have shown that physicians can accurately diagnose influenza without testing, our results suggest that using an influenza test increases diagnostic certainty and leads to the physician providing more specific and appropriate care,” says Anne J. Blaschke, MD, PhD, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, the study’s lead author. Read more on infectious disease.