Category Archives: Public health
It was about 10 years ago that the Institute of Medicine Committee on Assuring the Health of the Public in the 21st Century's released a report calling for an accreditation process for the nation’s public health departments. That recommendation led to the creation of the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB), which earlier this year named the first eleven departments to receive accreditation.
Writing in a special issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice that is dedicated to public health accreditation, Kaye Bender, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Carole Moehrle, BSN, RN, looked back on the first year, how the inaugural departments were selected and how they see accreditation changing the public health landscape moving forward. Both are on PHAB’s Board of Directors.
“The first year of realizing the goal of accredited health departments has been outstanding, not only from the standpoint of reaching that goal but also from the perspective of experiencing firsthand what the public health community across this country can do when we all work together on a common goal,” they wrote in the article, PHAB: Reflections From the First Year of Accreditation. “As the next years unfold and accreditation changes with the inevitable changes in the public health practice environment, these initial days will long be remembered for establishing a sound foundation upon which to build.
Writing in the same issue, Pamela Russo, MD, MPH, and Paul Kuehnert, DNP, RN, in their commentary, Accreditation: A Lever for Transformation of Public Health Practice, discussed the role that the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other organizations played in making accreditation a success. Accreditation, they wrote, is a way for a public health department to demonstrate to its community that it’s committed to accountable, transparent and quality care.
“Those who have perceived health departments as simply administrative sites for a collection of miscellaneous services are beginning to recognize that accredited health departments are mission-driven organizations of excellence that are implementing strategic plans to improve and protect the health of their communities,” wrote Russo and Kuehnert. “Accreditation is rapidly proving itself to be a powerful lever for the transformation of public health practice.”
>>Bonus content: RWJF Senior Program Officer Pamela Russo recently sat down for an interview on the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) podcast. Listen to Russo discuss how local partnerships can contribute to and improve community health.
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:
Telehealth Technology Could Help Obese Youth Get Better Treatment, Lose Weight
Telehealth technology—a secure computer system that enables patients to speak “face-to-face” with doctors who are far away—could be an effective strategy to help obese youth who are trying to lose weight, according to new research from UCLA. With a multidisciplinary approach often the prescribed for treating obesity, telehealth services would reduce travel time while giving patients access to expertise that might not be available in their area. This would be especially helpful for low-income families. The UCLA study linked UCLA health care providers with patients at their local health clinics, finding that 80 percent of the 45 study subjects were happy with the technology and would use it again. "One surprise was how natural it was to talk with each other through the telehealth system, even though we never met the patients in person," said lead author Wendy Slusser, MD, medical director of the Fit for Healthy Weight program at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and director of pediatric wellness programs at the Venice Family Clinic. "The interaction was very much like being in the same room together. Some kids even thought it was fun to see themselves on the screen." Read more on access to health care.
Study: Psychiatrists Less Likely than Other Doctors to Accept Insurance
Psychiatrists are less likely than other doctors to accept private insurance, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers analyzed government data from 2005 to 2010, which surveyed approximately 1,250 doctors each year, finding that from 2005 to 2010 the percentage of psychiatrists who accepted private insurance dropped from 72 percent to 55 percent. In comparison, over that same time the rate for doctors in other areas only dropped from 93 percent to 89 percent. While the study does not explain the vast difference, Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said reimbursement is a major concern, according to Reuters. "Many doctors can't afford to accept insurance because (insurance companies) don't pay them for the time," he said. "It involves taking more time with the patient and often treating them with psychotherapy.” Read more on mental health.
Even Mild Hits to the Head Can Cause Brain Damage
Even mild hits to the head that don’t cause concussion can still lead to problems with memory and thinking, according to a new study in the journal Neurology. Researchers equipped 80 football and ice hockey players with special helmets that gathered data on mild hits; while none of the players were diagnosed with a concussion, they still showed signs of deficits in thinking after the season. "This suggests that concussion is not the only thing we need to pay attention to," said Tom McAllister, MD, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "These athletes didn't have a concussion diagnosis in the year we studied them ... and there is a subsample of them who are perhaps more vulnerable to impact. We need to learn more about how long these changes last and whether the changes are permanent." Read more on injury prevention.
2013 America’s Health Rankings Finds Significant Progress in National Health
The new 2013 America’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation finds that while there is still much progress to be made, over the past year Americans improved in the majority of the measures that the Rankings use to rate public health. The improved areas include smoking rates, which fell to 19.6 percent of the adult population, from 21.2 percent the previous year, as well as physical inactivity, which fell to 22.9 percent from 26.2 percent. Also, for the first time since 1998 the obesity rate did not rise. With low rates of uninsured people, high rates of childhood immunization and low rates of health issues such as obesity and smoking, Hawaii ranked as the healthiest state in the country. Read more on community health.
FDA to Phase Out Use of Certain Antimicrobials in Food Animals
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving forward with a plan to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Antimicrobials can be used in the food and drinking water of cattle, poultry and other food animals to encourage weight gain. However, these same antimicrobials are used to treat infections in humans, and their availability in the food supply increases the possibility of the development of antimicrobial resistance. The FDA is giving companies three months to sign on to the strategy, then three years to transition. “This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials to protect public health while ensuring that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” said Bernadette Dunham, DVM, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and animal producers, and we have been working—and will continue to work—to make this transition as seamless as possible.” Read more on food safety.
HHS: 365,000 Enrolled Under Affordable Care Act in October, November
The official numbers are in, with almost 365,000 people selecting plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace in October and November, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 1.9 million people have gone through the online process, but have just not yet selected a plan, while more than 800,000 were determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The site went live at the beginning of October, but extensive bugs and glitches meant only about 27,000 people were able to sign up in that first month. Last week a reconfigured HealthCare.gov was launched after about five weeks of work spent addressing the problems, and 29,000 people were able to sign up during the first two days alone. Thirty-six states use HealthCare.gov, with fourteen states and Washington, D.C. maintaining their own sites. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Study: Strong State Laws Can Help Curb Binge Drinking
Strong state laws can help curb binge drinking, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Binge drinking, defined as more than four or five alcoholic drinks in a two-hour period, is a factor in about half of the 80,000 alcohol-related deaths each year. Researchers analyzed and graded 29 alcohol control policies across the United States, finding that those with the better policies were one-fourth as likely as those with poorest scores to have binge drinking rates in the top 25 percent of states. They also found that rates were 33 percent higher in states in the bottom quarter of grades than those in the top quarter. "Unfortunately, most states have not taken advantage of these policies to help drinkers consume responsibly, and to protect innocent citizens from the devastating secondhand effects and economic costs from excessive drinking," said study senior author Tim Naimi, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University Schools of Medicine and attending physician at Boston Medical Center. "The bottom line is that this study adds an important dimension to a large body of research demonstrating that alcohol policies matter—and matter a great deal—for reducing and preventing the fundamental building block of alcohol-related problems." Laws and policies that can help prevent binge drinking include limiting hours of sale, increasing alcohol taxes and holding those who sell alcohol legally responsible for harm inflicted by consumers who recently consumed alcohol, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on alcohol.
VP to Announce $100M to Improve Access to Mental Health Services
Vice President Joe Biden will today announce $100 million to improve access to mental health services across the country. The plan comes a year after the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and Biden will make the announcement at a meeting of the families of the victims of the tragedy and mental health advocates. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide the funding. "HHS will soon issue a $50 million funding opportunity to help Community Health Centers establish or expand behavioral health services for people living with mental illness or addiction," said a White House official, according to Reuters. "Additionally, USDA has set a goal of financing $50 million for the construction, expansion, or improvement of mental health facilities in rural areas over the next three years." Read more on mental health.
Kids Who Watch Violent Movies Also Exposed to Other Risky Behaviors
Exposing kids to violent movies can also expose them to other examples of potentially harmful behavior, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. "Parents should be aware that youth who watch PG-13 movies will be exposed to characters whose violence is linked to other more common behaviors, such as alcohol and sex, and that they should consider whether they want their children exposed to that influence," said study lead author Amy Bleakley, a policy research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center. The study analyzed nearly 400 top-grossing movies released from 1985 to 2010, finding that 90 percent included at least one act of violence that involved a main character, and that a main character used tobacco, consumed alcohol or engaged in sexual behavior in 77 percent of the films. Read more on violence.
Improved Prevention and Treatment Decrease U.S. Stroke Deaths
Stroke deaths in the United States have declined dramatically in the last few decades because of improved prevention and treatment, according to a scientific statement published in Stroke, published by the American Heart Association. “The decline in stroke deaths is one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Daniel T. Lackland, DrPH, chair of the statement writing committee and professor of epidemiology at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, S.C. “The decline is real, not a statistical fluke or the result of more people dying of lung disease, the third leading cause of death,” said Lackland, who added that “although all groups showed improvement, there are still great racial and geographic disparities with stroke risks as well many people having strokes at young ages [and] we need to keep doing what works and to better target these programs to groups at higher risk.” Public health efforts that have helped lower stroke rates include hypertension control that started in the 1970s; smoking cessation programs; improved control of diabetes and high cholesterol levels; and improved stroke treatment options. Read more on prevention.
NHTSA Announces New Safety Efforts for Older Drivers
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced a new strategic plan to help ensure the safety of older drivers and passengers. In 2012, according to NHTSA, more than 5,560 people over the age of 65 died, and 214,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. That’s a three percent increase in the number of fatalities and a 16 percent increase in the number of injuries from the previous year. In addition, since 2003 the population of older adults—defined as age 65 and older—has increased by 20 percent and the number of licensed older drivers increased by 21 percent, to 35 million licensed older drivers in 2012.
NHTSA has several new efforts in place to reduce these deaths and injuries:
- The agency is researching advanced vehicle technologies, including vehicle-to-vehicle communications, collision avoidance and crashworthiness that could help reduce the risk of death or injury to older occupants in the event of a crash. It is also considering adding a “silver” rating system, meaning cars with certain technologies might be preferable for older drivers.
- NHTSA will conduct studies to better understand the effects of age-related medical conditions, including dementia.
- NHTSA will continue public education efforts on functional changes that can impact driving, including vision, strength, flexibility and cognition.
Read more on transportation.
Poll: Parents Concerned Over Lack of Physical Activity During School Day
A recent poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that many parents are concerned about inadequate levels of physical education at schools. More than 1,300 parents of public school students were polled on a range of issues concerning education and health in the their child’s school, and one in four parents (25 percent) said their child’s school gives too little emphasis to physical education, compared with one in seven who say the same thing about reading and writing (14 percent) or math (15 percent). About three in 10 parents (28 percent) give a low grade (C, D or F) to their child’s school on providing enough time for physical education, while almost seven in 10 parents (68 percent) report that their child’s school does not provide daily physical education classes, a recommendation included in U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for schools. “In a period with a significant public debate about the content of educational reform, it is significant that many parents feel that more physical education is needed in the schools,” said Robert Blendon, ScD, Richard L. Menschel professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard. Read more on education.
CDC: Measles Remains a Threat to U.S. Health Security
Fifty years after the creation of the measles vaccine, the disease continues to be a very real public health threat both in the United States and globally, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While a recent study in JAMA Pediatrics confirmed U.S. measles elimination starting in 2000 and sustained through 2011, international travel means people from countries where the disease persists could still bring it to the United States. Approximately 158,000 globally died from measles in 2011, with an average of 430 children dying each day. These facts illustrate the need to be vigilant in reporting suspected cases to public health departments. “The steady arrival of measles in the United States is a constant reminder that deadly diseases are testing our health security every day,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Someday, it won’t be only measles at the international arrival gate; so, detecting diseases before they arrive is a wise investment in U.S. health security.” Read more on infectious disease.
HHS: $55.5M to Strengthen Training of U.S. Health Professionals, Especially in Nursing
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced the planned investment of millions to strengthen training for health professionals and add more professionals to the U.S. health care workforce, with a clear emphasis on nursing workforce development. About $45.4 million of the $55.5 million in FY 2013 will go toward nursing, including adding to the number of nurse faculty ($22.1 million), improving nurse diversity ($5.2 million), promoting interprofessional collaborative practice ($6.7 million) and supporting nursing education ($9.2 million). The more than 270 grants will also deal with overall public health, behavioral health and dentistry. Read more on nursing.
Switching to a Healthy Diet Adds About $1.50 Daily to Food Costs
Switching to a healthier may lighten your wallet a bit, but not so much that it isn’t worth it, according to a new study in the journal BMJ Open. Looking at 27 studies in 10 countries, researchers found that a diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish will add about $1.50 per day, or $550 per year, to an individual’s food budget. Healthy proteins such as boneless, skinless chicken breast were behind most of the additional costs. While this difference could be an issue for low-income families, middle-class families shouldn’t see much of a problem in making the healthy switch, according to study author Mayuree Rao, a junior research fellow in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "$1.50 is about the price of a cup of coffee and really just a drop in the bucket when you consider the billions of dollars spent every year on diet-related chronic diseases." Read more on nutrition.
HealthCare.gov: After Fixes, More Enroll in First Two Days of December than Did in All of October
The five weeks spent working on many of the problems of the HealthCare.gov website seem to have been time well spent, with more people signing up for the new health insurance in the first two days of December than were able to enroll in all of October. About 29,000 signed up for the insurance, made possible by the Affordable Care Act, on Sunday and Monday; only about 27,000 people signed up in October when the site first went live. While the final numbers have not been released, about 100,000 are estimated to have signed up via the site in November. The website is used in 36 states, with fourteen states and Washington, D.C. running their own sites. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Boston Adds Rentable Bicycle Helmets to Bikeshare System
Boston is working to improve the safety of people who use Hubway, the city’s popular bikeshare system, by installing the first vending machine for renting bicycle helmets. The HelmetHub street kiosk will be located at the Boylston Street and Massachusetts Avenue Hubway Station. Riders will be able to rent a helmet for 24 hours for $2, or purchase one to keep for $20; they will be sanitized and inspected after each use. The city intends for this test kiosk to be the first of many throughout Boston. Read more on safety.
Study: Social Ties, More than Biology, Responsible for Changes in Teen Sleep Times
Social ties—especially with parents and friends—may be more responsible than biology for whether a teenager gets enough sleep. While past studies have linked biological development factors to why children tend to sleep less as they age into teenagers, a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior ties the trend more closely to the quality of the teen’s social ties. In an analysis of data on almost 1,000 kids ages 12 to 15—during with the average sleep time drops from 9 hours per school night to 8 hours—researchers concluded that teens who felt that they were a part of school, who were close to their friends and especially who had parents who were active in their life were more likely to get more sleep. "Research shows that parents who keep tabs on their kids are less likely to see them get into trouble or use drugs and alcohol," said David Maume, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati. "My findings suggest a similar dynamic with sleep. Parents who monitor their children's behavior are more likely to have kids that get adequate rest. Given that children generally get less sleep as they become teenagers, parents should be ever more vigilant at this stage.” Read more on pediatrics.
NHTSA: Motorcoaches, Large Buses to Require Seatbelts for All Passengers and Driver
New motorcoaches and large buses will be required to provide lap and shoulder seatbelts for all passengers and driver, under a new rule issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While the buses are an overall safe way to travel, the large numbers of people they carry and the high speeds at which they travel mean a single collision can lead to a significant number of injuries, according to NHTSA. An average of 7,934 riders are injured each year in motorcoaches, and an average of 21 passengers are killed. "Buckling up is the most effective way to prevent deaths and injuries in all vehicular crashes, including motorcoaches," said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne S. Ferro, in a release. "Requiring seat belts in new models is another strong step we are taking to reach an even higher level of safety for bus passengers." The rule will apply to buses with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 26,000 pounds,) excluding transit buses and school buses. Read more on transportation.
Study: Women With Breast Cancer Should Get Mammograms Every 12 to 18 Months
Breast cancer patients should undergo mammograms every 12 to 18 months to determine whether their cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, according to a new study to be presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Study researcher Lilian Wang, MD, evaluated more than 300 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer because of a routine mammogram, dividing them into three groups based on their treatment history. She found that only 9 percent of the women who had 12- to 18-month intervals between mammograms saw their cancer spread to their lymph nodes; the rates were 21 percent for those who waited one-and-a-half to three years and 15 percent for those who waited three or more years. "If you catch someone with early stage cancer, they are going to need less extensive surgery, and maybe no chemo," said Laura Kruper, MD, director of the Cooper-Finkel Women's Health Center at the City of Hope Cancer Center, in Duarte, Calif., who was not a part of the study. "[The new study] adds more power behind the fact that we do need screening mammograms starting at age 40 and every year.” Read more on cancer.
FDA: Certain HeartStart AEDs May Not Work During Cardiac Emergencies
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday that certain automated external defibrillator (AED) devices made by Philips Medical Systems may not function properly when needed. In a new safety communication, FDA revealed that the devices may not deliver the needed shock to restore normal heart rhythm during a cardiac emergency. “The FDA advises keeping all recalled HeartStart AEDs in service until you obtain a replacement from Philips Healthcare or another AED manufacturer, even if the device indicates it has detected an error during a self-test,” said Steve Silverman, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Despite current manufacturing and performance problems, the FDA considers the benefits of attempting to use an AED in a cardiac arrest emergency greater than the risk of not attempting to use the defibrillator.” Read more on heart health.
NIH to Direct Additional $100M Toward Research in an HIV Cure
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced plans to invest an additional $100 million over the next three fiscal years in research directed toward a cure for HIV. Over the past three decades, NIH-funded research has led to the development of more than 30 antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations targeting HIV. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that growing knowledge about HIV, along with the development of new treatment strategies, makes the moment “ripe to pursue HIV cure research with vigor.” “Although the HIV/AIDS pandemic can theoretically be ended with a concerted and sustained scale-up of implementation of existing tools for HIV prevention and treatment, the development of a cure is critically important, as it may not be feasible for tens of millions of people living with HIV infection to access and adhere to a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy,” he said in a statement. Read more on HIV/AIDS.
Hong Kong Announces First Human Case of H7N9 Avian Flu
H7N9 avian flu appears to have spread from mainland China, with Hong Kong reporting its first human case of the deadly avian flu strain. A 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper is in critical condition after travelling to Shenzhen and buying, slaughtering and eating an apparently infected chicken. Earlier this year a report of human infection in Shanghai was quickly followed by the confirmation of more than 100 cases. While closing down live poultry markets in the area caused the number of new cases to drop, the World Health Organization has confirmed a total of 139 cases and 45 deaths. Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, said Hong Kong has raised its level of preparedness for an avian flu pandemic to "serious," and the city has suspended the importation of live chickens from certain Shenzhen farms as it also investigates its own stock. Read more on infectious disease.
Study: ‘Benign’ or ‘Healthy’ Obesity May Not Exist
Despite what some health professionals believe, “benign obesity” may not exist, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. People who are overweight or obese without health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes or other metabolic issues are still at increased risk of major health problems when compared with metabolically healthy, normal-weight people. The researchers looked at the results of eight studies covering more than 61,000 people, finding that in follow-ups of at least 10 years later the people who were overweight but without the risk factors were still at an increased risk of 24 percent for heart attack, stroke and even death. One explanation could be that these overweight people without the risk factors actually do have the risk factors, only at low levels that are difficult to detect, and that then become gradually worse. The results indicate that physicians should look at both body mass and metabolic tests when determining a patient’s health. Read more on obesity.