Category Archives: Social Determinants of Health

Jun 18 2014
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Health Beyond Health Care: RWJF-Sponsored Washington Post Live Event Sparks Conversation on Creating a Culture of Health

“Health Beyond Health Care” was the focus of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)-sponsored  Washington Post Live Forum today that looked at how creative minds in traditionally non-health fields—such as bankers, architects, designers and educators—are working together to build a Culture of Health in the United States.

“No matter where you live and how much money you have, you should have the opportunity to live a Culture of Health,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA.

>>View the full archived live stream of the forum.

Lavizzo-Mourey said RWJF began its work on the concept of a U.S. Culture of Health in 2009, when the foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America released a report recommending the concept. Last year, the Commission came together to see what progress had been made. Among the sites embracing the concept is Marvin Gaye Park in Washington, D.C. Once known as “Needle Park,” the community has transformed itself through lighting and landscaping. This was possible “because the community embraced the principles of a Culture of Health and demonstrated how, from the ground up, people partnering can change the nature of their community and make it healthier,” she said.

Pointing to the most recent Commission report, Lavizzo-Mourey said that looking at communities undergoing changes pushed the Commission to conclude that in order to improve health as a nation, we have to change communities—especially low-income communities—so that people can make healthy choices every day. That also means that health care has to connect with non-health care.

“Each of you,” she told the audience of thought leaders and policy makers, “is uniquely positioned to make changes that can get us to a nationwide Culture of Health.”

The day’s speakers spoke about innovations in their fields that are helping to create local changes in health, and which are often scalable for communities across the country.

“The most successful projects are those that start with bringing communities together to first assess the need, and then prioritize them and move forward with a particular project,” said Sister Susan Vickers, RSM, Vice President of Community Health, Dignity Health, who added that just about all the loans that Dignity Health has made to nonprofits in the community have been repaid.

Why a focus on health? “Health summarized all [of the other factors],” said David J. Erickson, PhD, Director, Center for Community Development Investments, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “The best predictor for future health for a third grader is whether they are reading on a grade level. Community development is big, but not big enough, and the medical system is not big enough either. We need to start aligning all of these sectors so we’re all working in the same direction to turn these neighborhoods around.” [Editor’s Note: Read a previous NewPublicHealth Q&A with Erickson.]

“We have to treat health as a national treasure—a natural resource—and put it up on the level of the seriousness of the economy,” said Rear Adm. Boris D. Lushniak, Acting U.S. Surgeon General. “The economy doesn’t do anything without a healthy people.”

Jun 17 2014
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Ending Veterans’ Homelessness by Next Year

Evidence-based practices and model homelessness reduction programs that have been effective in other cities are the key tools behind a new initiative, the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, launched earlier this month by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The goal of the Mayors Challenge is to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.Close to 60,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Housing experts say the model practices and speed of their deployment can also serve as examples to greatly reduce homelessness in the general population—which can be as high as 3.5 million in any given year, according to HUD surveys.

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Ending veteran homelessness has received increased attention in recent years. According to Eric Grumdahl, policy director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, there has already been a 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness in the last three years that is directly tied to evidenced-based practices, including:

  • Housing First, a concept that eliminates prerequisites such as sobriety and minimum income before a veteran can be given housing.
  • Permanent supportive housing, which adds mental health services.
  • Rapid re-housing aimed at people who are homeless from time-to-time rather than chronically homeless.

San Diego and Phoenix were both recently cited by both HUD and the VA for effectively ending chronic homelessness among veterans.

In Phoenix, where one in five homeless adults was a veteran—about twice the national average—the city leveraged partnerships and local, state and federal funding to find housing solutions for veterans. Partnerships included state and federal government; the business and faith community; and non-profit groups. The city’s mayor, Greg Stanton, credits “a united front” and Housing First’s work to speed up placing veterans in safe housing.

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Apr 28 2014
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Place Matters: Q&A with Brian Smedley, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

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Place Matters is a national initiative of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission it is to improve the lives of African Americans and other people of color through policy analysis and change. The Place Matters initiative was designed to build the capacity of local leaders around the country to identify and improve social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health. Nineteen teams are working in 27 jurisdictions.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with seven Place Matters teams about their ongoing efforts. We will be showcasing their work in a series that begins today with a conversation with Brian Smedley, PHD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute.

NPH: What are some initial steps that a community has to take when making changes in order to impact health?

Brian Smedley: Several things we believe are important, and these are principles that we employ in our Place Matters work. One is first and foremost to start with the very communities that are most affected by economic and political marginalization and that have suffered from disinvestment for years. These are often communities that have the leadership and sources of strength and resiliency to begin to tackle these problems. We believe that engaging with communities; identifying their key concerns; identifying the sources of strength and resiliency in the community; and finding out from the community what their vision is for a healthy and vibrant community are all important first steps for anyone engaged in this kind of work.

We also believe that there’s an important role for research to document the inequitable distribution of health risks and resources, and to show how that often correlates with patterns of residential segregation. We have worked with our Place Matters teams to produce what we call community health equity reports, where we document such issues as where people can buy healthy food; how close polluting industries are to neighborhoods and residential areas; sources of jobs; and neighborhoods that have high levels of poverty concentration. 

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Apr 22 2014
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Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America

file Emerson Elementary School class picture, ca. 1947 Courtesy of Shades of San Francisco, San Francisco Public Library

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman,” said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 at the Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, which was organized to support civil-rights activists during Mississippi's Freedom Summer. Those words are part of the Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America exhibit on display at the David J. Sencer Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Museum in Atlanta. The museum, located at the CDC’s Visitor Center, mounts several exhibits each year. The timing for the Health as a Human Right exhibit coincides with National Minority Health Month, observed each April to raise awareness of health disparities in the U.S. among ethnic and racial minorities. 

file “Incidence of Syphilis Among Negroes” chart From Shadow on the Land by Surgeon General Thomas Parran, 1936

The CDC exhibit, curated by museum director Louise Shaw, is organized by social determinants of health such as housing and transportation. Photographs, like those of teeming settlements in urban cities, are a key tool to show museum goers and online viewers the health disparities in U.S. history and present day. 

Among the items in the exhibit:

  • Mexican men sprayed with DDT on their arrival for a guest worker program in the 1950s.
  • A corroded sanitation pipe and bottles of unsafe drinking water from the Community Water Center in the San Joaquin Valley, California.
  • An inventive and cheap air sampler from New Orleans that people used to catalogue pollution levels and share with law makers.
  • A Chinese version of the "Be Certain: Get Tested for Hepatitis B," campaign.
  • A March of Dimes poster depicting an African American child with polio from the late 1950s. (For a long time after the polio epidemic began, many believed African Americans could not contract the virus. As a result, precaution campaigns were rare and late among that population.) 
file “We Shall Survive, Without a Doubt” poster from The Black Panther, August 21, 1971, artwork by Emory Douglas Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition is sponsored by CDC's Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, the CDC's Office of the Associate Director for Communication and the California Endowment.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Louise Shaw in Atlanta.

NewPublicHealth: What made you decide to mount and curate this exhibit?

Louise Shaw: Three years ago the CDC Museum was approached by CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) to organize an exhibition to commemorate its 25th anniversary. As curator of the Museum, I was excited by the possibilities and conceived of a project that extended beyond just honoring OMHHE accomplishments. Dr. Leandris Liburd, OMHHE director, and her terrific staff, quickly jumped on board, and we all agreed to develop a historic exhibition framed by the social determinants of health. 

file “Southern Farmer’s Burden” cartoon about the Georgia State Board of Health’s efforts against malaria among African American rural workers, United States Public Health Service, 1923 Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, photo no. 90-G-22-4

NPH: What are some of the most striking issues you found in disparities between whites and minorities when it comes to social determinants of health?

Louise Shaw: Although we have made progress in many areas, we are still tackling similar issues in the 21st century that were debated 100 years ago. For instance, how we provide quality education to all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income status, was and is one of the greatest challenges facing our country. As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has documented, education and the optimum health outcomes are closely linked. Ultimately, education is the pathway to eliminating health disparities. Income equality/inequality is another complex issue that is being hotly debated today. One more specific example: although pre-term birth rates have greatly declined over the past century among all groups, the disparities of those rates between whites and minorities stubbornly remain, and are yet to be eliminated. We need to ask ourselves why that is so. Collectively, we have still not resolved what it means to live in a diverse, multicultural society.  

NPH: Do you know of any outcomes that have come from the exhibit?

Louise Shaw: Internally at CDC, the exhibition has been an important touchstone for discussion and debate. I have received incredible feedback about the honesty of the exhibition, thanking me for connecting the dots visually among race, place, and health. By the time it closes on April 25th, over 30,000 people will have seen the show. I don’t think we have ever mounted an exhibition that has been visited by so many college and university students — some even virtually. A consortium of faculty members from the University of Connecticut, Emory University, and Georgia State University, have developed a formal evaluation tool. In addition, there is a local and national movement underfoot to figure out how the show can live on whether online or in another form. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

NewPublicHealth: What is the mission of the project?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the Early Learning Network.

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

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

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Feb 21 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Nadine Gracia, HHS Office of Minority Health

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Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released updated national Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care to help health organizations improve care in diverse communities.

When the updated standards were released, Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, the Assistant Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said “the enhanced CLAS Standards provide a platform for all persons to reach their full health potential.” Koh added that the updated CLAS Standards provide a framework for the delivery of culturally respectful and linguistically responsive care and services. By adopting the framework, health professionals will be better able to meet the needs of all individuals at all points of contact.

“As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, improving cultural and linguistic competency across public health and our health care system can be one of our most powerful levers for advancing health equity,” said Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Director of the HHS Office of Minority Health.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Gracia about the updated standards and opportunities that efforts to increase health equity can bring to the health of individuals and communities.

NewPublicHealth: How does cultural respect help improve health in diverse communities?

Nadine Gracia: As we see the growing diversity of our country and the persistence of health disparities, really having everyone engaged in the discussion of health equity and the attainment of the highest level of health for all people is vital. Culture and cultural respect are really important when we talk about health equity as well as quality of care, and that’s because culture really influences health beliefs and practices. It influences one’s health-seeking behaviors and attitudes and the experience that someone may have in a health care setting.

So, it is essential that providers and health care delivery institutions understand the critical role that they play in providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services. We define those services as ones that are respectful of and responsive to an individual’s cultural health beliefs, their preferred languages, their health literacy levels and their communication needs. They are really applied by and employed by all members of an organization at every point of contact.

Culturally and linguistically appropriate services are essential when we talk about the health care encounter because they are increasingly recognized as being effective in improving the quality of services and increasing patient safety by preventing miscommunication; facilitating accurate assessment and diagnosis of a patient’s condition; and enabling everyone engaged in health services to truly develop an accurate and effective treatment plan.

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Jan 31 2014
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In San Diego, a Big Push for Better Health

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Many of the sessions at the National Association of Counties (NACo) Health Initiatives Forum meeting in San Diego this week have been moderated by Nick Macchione, director of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency and vice chair of the Healthy Counties Initiative Advisory Board. Macchione is a key architect of Live Well San Diego, a program voted in by the San Diego Board of Supervisors that is a long term, comprehensive and innovative strategy on wellness with a goal of helping all San Diego County residents become healthy, safe and thriving.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Nick Macchione ahead of the forum. Senior Policy Advisor Julie Howell and Dale Fleming, director of strategic planning and operational support, joined the conversation.

NewPublicHealth: The buzz about San Diego is that you’re working hard toward population health improvement.

Nick Macchione: I think the excitement about San Diego is that we have earned a reputation as a health innovation zone by having a collective impact on health and wellness. Our deeds demonstrate our words because over the past decade there have been five major broad-based population health improvements: reduction of heart disease and stroke; reduction of cancer rates; reduction of childhood obesity; reduction of infant mortality; and reduction of children in foster care. That reduction is extremely important to population health because we also look at the social determinants of health and not just pure health care.

We've taken an ecological approach to population health—working with partners across all sectors and coming together not just from traditional health care but beyond that to public health, social services, business, community, schools and the faith community.

And we’ve done that in the context of optimizing existing resources to improve outcomes. We’ve been blessed with a lot of competitive federal grants and philanthropy investments, but really the framework is how we leverage and optimize what we have first before we go and seek to augment with other resources. That has worked exceptionally well and that’s earned us that innovation zone reputation.

NPH: Tell us about Live Well San Diego.

Macchione: Live Well San Diego is a comprehensive public health initiative that involves widespread community partnerships to address the root causes of illness and rising health care costs. The tagline is healthy, safe and thriving. We think it’s a great template that communities can use, it’s transferable because San Diego has every imaginable bio-climate except a tropical rainforest. So we have desert towns, we have rural communities, we have mountain villages, we have beach towns and everything in between urban core. We also call it Project 1 Percent because 1 percent of San Diego represents the nation both in its diversity and its population. So, if we can achieve what we're achieving on advancing population based health in a broad scale it can be demonstrated throughout the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jan 3 2014
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Public Health Campaign of the Month: Teach for America’s Health

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>>NewPublicHealth continues a new series to highlight some of the best public health education and outreach campaigns every month. Submit your ideas for Public Health Campaign of the Month to info@newPublichealth.org.

With only nine percent of current college students actively choosing teaching as a career, the Ad Council has launched a new PSA series to help recruit more students to join the ranks of educators. The need is critical. The worry: Half of all teachers are eligible to retire in the next decade, according to Ad Council research, leaving the potential for critical shortages for trained professionals across the United States.

Education is not just a rung to the best job possible—research shows that education is also critical for improving the health of individuals and communities. An infographic created last year by NewPublicHealth to showcase the goals of the National Prevention Strategy—a strategic plan across federal agencies to improve U.S. population health—illustrated key links between education and health, including:

  • Each additional year of schooling represents an 11 percent increase in income
  • The more years of education a mother attains, the more likely her infant is to survive and thrive

Some of the taglines of the PSA series, designed to appeal to both students and mid-career professionals, include:

  • I’m a teacher, I make more
  • You don’t need to be famous to be unforgettable
  • You wanted to be a teacher when you were 12 years old; it’s time to put it back on your list