Category Archives: Public health agencies

Oct 30 2013
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Faces of Public Health: Napa County's Karen Smith on Budget Cuts at Local Health Departments

Karen Smith, MD, MPH, Health Officer and Deputy Director for Public Health at Napa County Health and Human Services Karen Smith, MD, MPH, Health Officer and Deputy Director for Public Health at Napa County Health and Human Services

Since 2008, local health departments have cut nearly 44,000 jobs, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Although workforce losses and gains were roughly equal in 2012, 41 percent of local health departments nationwide experienced some type of reduction in workforce capacity and 48 percent of all local health departments reduced or eliminated services in at least one program area. Currently, local health departments reporting cuts still exceed the percentage of local health departments reporting budget increases.

California’s Napa County has dealt with its budget cuts by revamping its health department in order to continue to stay on mission.

“I think we've come out the other end of all this as a much stronger health department,” said Karen Smith, MD, MPH, Health Officer and Deputy Director for Public Health at Napa County Health and Human Services. “We moved from what I think of as an ‘old style’ [public health agency] to a department that focuses on our role as a convener/partner, providing expertise and leadership, and helping to craft policy.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Smith about the methods Napa Public Health used—and that other departments might follow—to adapt and improve in the face of budget cuts.

NewPublicHealth: How have budget changes impacted your department over the last five to ten years?

Karen Smith: Napa Public Health started out with a lean health division for the size of the county compared to some of our colleagues, and we remain lean. We have not really decreased services, however. We were able to get out ahead when we saw looming budget constraints.

Napa Public Health is part of the County’s Health and Human Service Agency, which includes social services, as well as mental health, drug and alcohol, child welfare services, comprehensive services for older adults and public health, and our administrative divisions. The previous director had a distinctive approach to budgeting: that the agency has a bottom-line budget and within that we have very detailed division budgets. So I have excruciatingly detailed budgets for every single program within public health, and that was crucial to our being able to respond to the budget shortfalls in creative ways that had limited impact on services.

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Oct 28 2013
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APHA Annual Meeting 2013: Q&A with Georges Benjamin, APHA Executive Director

Georges Benjamin MD, APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin MD, APHA Executive Director

More than 10,000 public health officials, academics and students will gather in Boston next week for the 2013 American Public Health Association Meeting in Boston. This year’s theme is “Think Global, Act Local,” drawing critical attention to the increasingly global world of health where events across the globe—from food safety, to infectious disease outbreaks, to innovative public health solutions—can impact every local neighborhood.

>>NewPublicHealth will be on the ground at the APHA Annual Meeting, with speaker and thought-leader interviews, video perspective pieces and updates from sessions, with a focus on what it takes to build a culture of health. Follow our coverage here.

Ahead of the annual meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Georges Benjamin MD, APHA executive director.

NewPublicHealth: Why is the theme “Think Global, Act Local” so important?

Georges Benjamin: We’re in a world in which everything is global. There are no boundaries anymore. Rapid transit through planes, the fact that our borders are so porous...public health has always been a global enterprise, but even more so today. Our food comes no longer from a single farm but from multiple farms and sometimes multiple countries, so foodborne risks for disease and illness are global. We’ve seen that terrorism disasters are global. We’ve seen that obesity, particularly with corporations that sell certain products globally, is a big issue, and tobacco has always been a global issue. So, public health is global, and the idea is that if we can learn from people around the world and then utilize those learnings within our local communities, we’ll be stronger

NPH: What are some of the meeting sessions you’d highlight?

Benjamin: Our opening session will feature Professor Sir Michael Marmot, Director of the International Institute for Society and Health and Research Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College, London, who spoke at our meeting five years ago on the social determinants of health and is going to give us an update. In the closing session, we’ll hear from actor/physician/public health doctor, Evan Adams, MD, the deputy provincial health officer for British Columbia, who will speak about improving the health of native people. So in both our opening and closing sessions we’re looking globally, as well as emphasizing what happens locally. We’ll also hear from the minister of health of Taiwan, who will talk about universal health care as well as violence prevention. And we’ll also be holding sessions that track the many public crises that we’ve already had this year.

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Sep 26 2013
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FDA Weighs in On Mobile Medical Apps

After years of deliberation, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued final guidance on the regulation of smartphone medical devices. In a nutshell, generally speaking any device used in diagnosis or treatment can’t be marketed until it’s approved by the FDA; other apps—such as calorie counters, or pedometers built into a phone—don’t need the FDA’s nod. The FDA’s criteria is how much risk an app poses for a consumer. The agency says it “intends to focus its regulatory oversight on a subset of mobile medical apps that present a greater risk to patients if they do not work as intended.”

Specifically, the FDA will focus its oversight on mobile medical apps that: 

  • Are intended to be used as an accessory to a regulated medical device—for example, an application that allows a health care professional to make a specific diagnosis by viewing a medical image from a picture archiving and communication system (PACS) on a smartphone or a mobile tablet.
  • Transform a mobile platform into a regulated medical device—for example, an application that turns a smartphone into an electrocardiography (ECG) machine to detect abnormal heart rhythms or determine whether a patient is experiencing a heart attack.

“We have worked hard to strike the right balance, reviewing only the mobile apps that has the potential to harm consumers if they do not function properly,” said Jeffrey Shuren, M.D., J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Our mobile medical app policy provides app developers with the clarity needed to support the continued development of these important products.”

While the final guidelines were only just released, FDA has cleared 100 mobile medical apps for marketing in the last few years, and 40 of those were just in the last two years.

Synim Rivers, an FDA spokesman, answered questions for NewPublicHealth about the final guidance on mobile medical apps.

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Sep 23 2013
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Leading the Workplace Wellness Movement: Public Health Departments' Role

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GUEST POST by John Skendall, Manager, Web and New Media at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

“How much are we really doing in the area of worksite wellness? Are we walking the talk and serving our employees the way we should?” This question was posed by Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), in a session on workplace wellness at the organization’s annual meeting last Friday in Orlando.

Jarris said that health departments can do more to foster wellness among employees in the states and territories. “We in public health are not leading in this area,” he said. “We are the laggards.”

>>Follow continued ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage on NewPublicHealth.org.

Terry Dwelle, state health official for the North Dakota Department of Health and moderator of the session, agreed. “Health departments must have a worksite wellness program. We need to practice what we preach,” said Dwelle. He also said that the business case for worksite wellness needs to be made to convince employers of the value of investing in wellness.

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Sep 20 2013
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CDC Director Tom Frieden Offers Encouragement, Challenges to State and Territorial Health Officials

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GUEST POST by Lisa Junker, CAE, Director of Communications at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

The United States is facing a “perfect storm of vulnerability,” said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, yesterday at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)—and state and local public health officials are on the front line of defense.

Frieden began his remarks by encouraging his listeners to “go back to first principles” and keep in mind the first priority of government, which is to keep people safe.

“If the government can’t keep people safe, whether it’s the police or us in public health, we are failing at our number-one responsibility to the public,” Frieden said.

And to keep the U.S. population safe today, public health officials have to keep their eyes open for threats arriving from outside our borders. Infectious diseases, drug resistance, new pathogens, intentional engineering of microbes, and globalization of travel, food and medicines: “If there’s a blind spot anywhere, we’re at risk everywhere,” Frieden emphasized.

He also focused on CDC’s partnership with state and local public health, even during the current tight fiscal atmosphere.

“Overall, our approach has been to double down on support for the front lines [state and local health agencies],” he said. “We all are in this together…We have lots of problems and lots of opportunities, and the more effectively we are connected, the more effectively we can address these opportunities.”

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Sep 19 2013
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Public Health Gets on the Pinterest Bandwagon

Public health institutions across the country are joining the 10.5 million users on the virtual pinboard website, Pinterest, to share important health information and images. Topics such as women’s health, healthy living, emergency preparedness and public health history are a few of the boards on the CDCgov page. Harvard School of Public Health focuses more on healthy eating, recommended readings and inspirational quotes. Users are able to categorize topics and pictures anyway they want, allowing every institute’s page to be unique.

Users of the online scrapbook view content, “re-pin” photos to their pages, add comments to images and “like” user’s content.  Pages encourage users to leave comments on the images that they like most or would like to see more of. Pinterest is the third-fastest growing social network, with 80 percent of users being women and 50 percent mothers, according to TechCrunch. The site is another way for public health professionals to stay at the center of the public health conversation and interact with their key audience on the most recent public health issues. The dissemination of information continues to grow as more people participate in the sorting, collecting and sharing of public health information.

Take a look at some of the other public health institutions that are joining Pinterest: American Public Health Association (APHA)Ohio State's College of Public Health and Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL).

Sep 19 2013
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ASTHO Annual Meeting: A Conversation about Public Health Department Accreditation

John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, Secretary of Health for the state of Washington

Public health department accreditation is a key topic on the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) annual meeting agenda this year. John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, Secretary of Health for the state of Washington, will participate in a discussion on the issue during the meeting. He speaks with authority, as Washington, along with Oklahoma, is one of only two states recently accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board.

>>Follow our ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage throughout the week.

In advance of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Wiesman about the benefits of accreditation to public health departments and the communities they serve.

NewPublicHealth: What are benefits of public health accreditation to share with directors of state health departments who have not yet applied for the credential?

John Wiesman: Honestly, I think accreditation gives you bragging rights in the sense that you’re saying “our organization values quality and outcomes.” For example, you can add that to a grant for a question that asks about quality processes. That states your commitment and that a national organization found that to be true. And it gives you bragging rights with fellow cabinet officers and the governor. To be able to say you are an accredited health department means something and you can value that.

Another critical thing is that for the local public health agencies in your state, the process of going through accreditation and developing a state health improvement plan gives you an opportunity to talk about how you want to improve health in your state and get everyone on the same page. So it’s a way to build relationships with health departments in the state and showcase priorities you want to work on together. In that sense, the process of applying for accreditation goes a very long way.

NPH: What benefit has the state health department accreditation brought to local health departments in your state who are considering applying for the credential?

Wiesman: We have learning collaborative in the state as well as some grants that allow us to work with local health departments on quality improvement to become accreditation-ready. And by having gone through the accreditation process ourselves as a state health department, we bring added credibility to the table and can answer many of their questions, and our firsthand experience gives things more meaning. I think it’s absolutely important for state health departments to become accredited if you want others to do that as well.

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Sep 18 2013
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ASTHO Annual Meeting: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with José Montero

José Montero, MD, outgoing president of ASTHO José Montero, MD

For the last several years there’s been a bit of a tradition at the annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), with the incoming president introducing a year-long “President's Challenge” to focus the attention of state health officers on a critical national public health issue.

José Montero, MD, outgoing president of ASTHO and director of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, chose the reintegration of public health and health care. The starting point for the challenge was a report by the Institute of Medicine, Primary Care and Public Health: Exploring Integration to Improve Population Health. In his announcement, Montero emphasized the need to take a systems approach to health care transformation in order to achieve lasting improvements in population health.

Throughout the past year, both state health departments and other public health organizations have added their integration projects to a project list maintained by ASTHO. This includes the State of New Hampshire Department of Public Health, which has collaborated with a community health center network and others to use electronic health records to link providers and tobacco quitline services, with the goal of cutting smoking rates.

>>Follow our ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage throughout the week.

Just ahead of the 2013 ASTHO annual meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Montero about the importance of the challenge he put forward for his fellow state health officers and next steps.

NewPublicHealth: What participation have you seen by the state health departments in your President's Challenge on reintegration of public health and health care?

José Montero: The specific metric that I used was to have states and the District of Columbia send stories that illustrate levels of partnership and integration. During the past year, the visibility of the topic has grown dramatically. In addition, ASTHO has an ongoing partnership that has brought together more than 50 different organizations for the same purpose. We meet regularly, working together on how to advance the agenda of better coordination and integration, and every day we identify new people who want to participate, and I think that has been an amazing result. I don’t want to claim that all of this is because of the ASTHO initiative. There were a lot of things that were out there already. But this was a timely call, and all of those who were working on it are joining efforts to make it happen.

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Sep 17 2013
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ASTHO Annual Meeting: NewPublicHealth Q&A with Paul Jarris

Paul Jarris, MD, ASTHO Executive Director Paul Jarris, MD, ASTHO Executive Director

The annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) begins tomorrow in Orlando, Florida. Attendees at the ASTHO annual meeting head to the same sessions and listen to the same speakers over three days, which helps create a common fluency with critical public health issues. It also creates cohesion among state health officers, who often work with each other during public health crises and learn from each others’ successful approaches to dilemmas such as budget cuts and entrenched chronic disease.

>>Follow our ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage throughout the week.

Ahead of the meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with ASTHO’s long-time executive director, Paul Jarris, MD, about the key issues participants will engage in during the 2013 ASTHO meeting.

NewPublicHealth: What are key themes at this year’s annual meeting?

Dr. Paul Jarris: There are a number of major health issues on the agenda for the conference, including an update on Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait, last year’s ASTHO presidential challenge. Together with the Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA) there’s an intention to roll out Healthy Babies learning collaboratives across the country, and we’ll be sharing successes of the initiative from the past year.

Another major area we’ll be talking about will be the reintegration of public health and health care. A lot of this work has been outgoing ASTHO president Dr. Jose Montero’s presidential challenge for the last year, and there’s been a lot of work going on, including the development of a national collaborative between public health and primary care that ASTHO is supporting. The collaborative involves more than 50 different health care and public health organizations, brought together for the purposes of improving the population’s health.

Incoming president Terry Cline will launch his Presidential Challenge, a major initiative on prescription drug abuse and misuse and overdose. There are more people who die from prescription drug overdose than from motor vehicle accidents in this country—and there’s much that can be done about it. We’ll also have the leadership from the Office of National Drug Control Policy speaking on this critical issue.

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Sep 13 2013
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State Health Officers Convene Next Week: NewPublicHealth is On the Ground

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The annual meeting of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) begins next week in Orlando, Fla., bringing together state health officials and other leaders to talk about the latest critical issues around public health in the United States. NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the meeting covering workshops, sessions and keynote speeches, as well as speaking with program speakers and conference attendees.

Discussions will highlight ways to integrate and coordinate health care and public health, including new opportunities under the Affordable Care Act. We will also explore the new ASTHO President's Challenge around preventing prescription drug abuse, check in on efforts around healthy babies and more. Coverage will also include interviews with thought leaders including Paul Jarris, Terry Cline, José Montero and John Wiesman.

>>Follow NewPublicHealth coverage of the ASTHO meeting here.
>>Follow the coverage on Twitter @RWJF_PubHealth, and join the conversation using the hashtag #ASTHO13.