Category Archives: Social determinants of health

Nov 21 2013
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Minnesota’s Healthy Communities Conference 2013: Q&A with Paul Mattessich and Ela Rausch

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A conference in St. Paul, Minn., earlier this month examined ideas and emerging examples for building a healthier Minnesota by promoting the integration of health-related programs and community development to address health where we live, learn, work and play. The conference was convened by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota and Wilder Research, the research arm of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. The gathering, which was a follow-up to an initial conference on the intersection of health and community development held in Minnesota a year ago, highlighted current successful cross-sector efforts throughout the state.

Elaine Arkin, manager of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, was a keynote speaker at the conference. Her remarks included the announcement that the Commission’s recommendations on early childhood and supporting healthy communities will be released in early 2013.

The highlighted projects included a task force on increasing access to healthier foods, often an obstacle in poorer communities; locating needed services alongside senior housing; a stable housing concept for people at risk of homelessness following a hospital stay; and a project underway to give kids living in trailer parks a safe place to play.

“The strategy that we used this year in engaging people with actual examples...was very effective in really acknowledging that this work is messy, that it does take time and that in order to keep people enthusiastic about it sometimes it does require giving people a pat on the back even just for the small progress that they’ve made,” said Ela Rausch, community development project manager of the Federal Reserve of Minnesota.

Following the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Ela Rausch and Paul Mattessich, PhD, Executive Director of Wilder Research.

NewPublicHealth: What were the key goals of this year’s meeting?

Paul Mattessich: The overarching goal is at the national level to bring together public health with community development finance in order to better address health issues, social determinants of health and improved community health. But what we did the first time a year ago was to try to get the two sectors to understand what each other does, what their vocabulary was, how best to work together and to start some networking.

This year the goal was to take the next step and highlight some examples where this cross-sector collaboration occurred, and to use that to try to further that even more and to underscore the fact that the two sectors really do address the same end goal, even though they do it in different ways. And if they team up they can do it more effectively.

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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?

Two professional women, Helen Stagg and Christina Sanders walking across a parking lot.

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 6 2013
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The Connection Between High School Graduation and Health

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“For too long, we’ve thought of health as something that happens to you in a doctor’s office,” explained Howard Koh, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health on Monday at the American Public Health Association (APHA) 2013 meeting. “We have about 20 leading health indicators that we look at closely, one of them is high school graduation.”

Koh went on to describe social efforts such as boosting graduation rates as among the most important things we can do to improve health for the future. He also discussed the important role that learning plays in being healthy—and that being healthy can also free kids up to focus and get a better education. The assistant secretary’s sentiments kicked off a panel on the indelible connection between the nation’s drop-out crisis and public health, and the ways in which we can achieve success in both.

Robert Balfanz of the Johns Hopkins School of Education began by describing the drop out epidemic: the overall graduation rate in the United States is as low as 78 percent and is far lower in some communities with the greatest inequities. In fact, one third of all schools produce 85 percent of the country’s drop outs. Chronic absenteeism, often related to student health, is the leading cause of the issue. For example, 25 percent of students in one city missed a year or more of schooling over a five-year period.

Health factors have a significant impact on academic success and graduation rates. According to Charles Basch of Teachers College at Columbia University, health issues such as poor vision, asthma and teen pregnancy inhibit student success, disproportionately so in children of urban, minority communities. Left unaddressed, these issues can form causal pathways to the increased likelihood of dropping out.

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Sep 24 2013
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Public Health and Medicaid Partner in States to Improve Health Outcomes

ASTHO 2013's "Medicaid and Public Health: Improving Partnerships" Panel ASTHO 2013's "Medicaid and Public Health: Improving Partnerships" Panel

GUEST POST by Virgie Townsend, JD, associate editor at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO)

About 40 percent of the health care dollars spent in New York State come from Medicaid. Realizing that the rate was climbing far too fast, the state brought together health care advocates, physician representatives, elected officials, management and unions to solve the growing financial issue by addressing the social determinants.

And they were effective. Last year the state saved $4 billion while adding approximately 154,000 people to its Medicaid program.

One of the key figures behind the public health improvements was New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, who last week moderated the panel discussion “Medicaid and Public Health: Improving Partnerships” at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials’ (ASTHO) 2013 Annual Meeting.

>>Read more in a NewPublicHealth Q&A with Shah.

>>Read more on New York State’s Health Improvement Plan.

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

In addition to Shah, the panel included Vermont Department of Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD; Executive Director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors Matt Salo; and Chief Medical Officer for Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services Stephen Cha, MD, MHS. Shah and Chen discussed how their states are improving population health through greater integration with Medicaid, while Cha and Salo presented their views from the Medicaid perspective.

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Jul 25 2013
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Sonoma Aims for Healthiest County in Calif. By Addressing Education, Poverty: Q&A with Peter Rumble

Peter Rumble, Sonoma County Peter Rumble, Sonoma County

In 2011, Sonoma County in California established the division of Health Policy, Planning and Evaluation (HPPE) in an effort to move the county up in the County Health Rankings, toward a goal of becoming the healthiest in the state by 2020. As the director of the division, Peter Rumble, MPA, has played a critical role in the development of numerous programs and policy efforts to help create opportunities for everyone in Sonoma County to be healthy. Rumble has worked on programs and policies that go beyond traditional public health activities and aim to address the root causes of poor health, including the local food system, education and poverty.

Following his presentation at the International Making Cities Livable Conference, NewPublicHealth was able to speak with Rumble about the ways in which his work with HPPE is pushing to achieve health equity in Sonoma County. Rumble will soon move into a position as Deputy County Administrator of Community and Government Affairs for the County of Sonoma, where he plans to continue his commitment to a vision of health and quality of life for the county.

NewPublicHealth: Sonoma is making a concerted effort to help address the root causes of poor health, like poverty and lack of education. Tell us about some of those efforts.

Peter Rumble: Health Action is our real heartbeat of addressing social determinants of health, and it’s a roadmap for our vision of being the healthiest county in California by 2020. Health Action is a community council that advises the Board of Supervisors. There are 45 seats on the council, including elected officials, individual community leaders, nonprofit leaders, and representative from the business, financial, labor, media, transportation and environmental sectors. If you pick a name out of the hat for all of the sectors in the community, we’ve got somebody who either directly or tangentially represents that sector. That group began talking about needing to do something around health in 2007. 

If we’re going to be the healthiest county in California by 2020, what do we need to do to achieve our ten goals based on the best evidence available? We certainly have goals associated with the health system, but predominantly, we’re focused on influencing the determinants of health. Our first goal is related to education. We want all of our children to graduate from high school on time and ready to either enter a thriving workforce or go into college or a technical career academy.

file Community garden in Sonoma County (photo by Arlie Haig)

We started with some grassroots initiatives. Being a real strong agricultural community, iGROW was a good place to start. It was a movement to develop community gardens—for people to tear up their front lawns and plant a garden there, and increasing access to healthy food. That was a huge hit. We set a goal of a few hundred community gardens, and we’re up to a thousand now—it’s just caught fire.  

That was all great, but a community garden is not going to make us the healthiest county in California, right? You can see the beautiful posters out on shop windows, you can see your neighbor tore up their front lawn and is growing this beautiful zucchini and has an edible lawn now and all that’s wonderful, but we only have a graduation rate of 70 percent. We’ve got nearly one in four kids living in poverty by the federal poverty standards and if you look at what actually it takes to raise a family in Sonoma County, about half of all families can’t make ends meet. 

NPH: Does that surprise people to hear about Sonoma?

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Jun 17 2013
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Father’s Day Faces of Public Health: Tim Nelson

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In Doing the Best I Can, Tim Nelson, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard, and his co-author, Kathryn Edin, a professor of policy and management at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, take a close look at the inaccurate stereotypes about low-income fathers and how a different approach could lead to more stable, healthier families. The book also calls for reforms in the U.S. including regularly incorporating visitation into child-support orders and improving systemic approaches to fathers with employment barriers that affect their ability to pay support. According to Nelson, these efforts could result in increased income for single-mother families, social supports for dads, and improved father-child relationships.

Just before Father’s Day, NewPublicHealth spoke with Tim Nelson about the book’s findings.

NewPublicHealth: How did you come to write the book?

Tim Nelson: My co-author, Kathryn Edin, has written several books about single mothers in Camden, New Jersey and in Philadelphia, first in the mid-1990s about how single mothers make ends meet on welfare and low wage work and then in the mid-2000s, she co-wrote a book about how single moms make decisions about marriage and childrearing. Doing the Best I Can, is kind of the companion piece to the book on marriage and childrearing, which is called Promises I Can Keep. The men we interviewed are not the partners of the women in the prior book, but they do come from the same neighborhoods and have the same low income status. It’s aimed at getting the fathers’ perspectives and experiences, which are much less well known than the mothers’.

NPH: What needs correcting about the image of low-income fathers and why is it important to correct it?

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Jun 13 2013
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Like Close to Two Millions Kids, New Sesame Street Character Has an Incarcerated Parent

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How many children could possibly identify with a new Sesame Street character whose dad is in prison? Close to two million, according to many experts. A White House “Champions of Change” event yesterday honored twelve men and women who have spent their careers researching and improving the lives of children who have at least one parent in prison. That explains why Sesame Street released a new video and toolkit yesterday, as part of their "Little Children, Big Challenges" series, that tells the story of Alex, whose dad is in prison. Alex’s grown up and peer friends help him talk, and sing, about his feelings about his dad and how other people speak about his dad’s prison stay. The "Challenges" series includes issues many kids face such as divorce and a parent in the military, and the resources are distributed through therapist's offices, schools, jails and other key places to reach kids.

The White House program, led off by Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Munoz and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, included panel discussions on the needs of kids whose parents are in jail, which is a recognized “adverse childhood experience”  that can lead to poor health outcomes as children become adults. Among the problems kids of incarcerated parents can face are decreased living standards, social isolation because of the stigma they feel about having a parent in prison, and long-term or permanent separation from the incarcerated parent.

>>Watch a CBS News story on the Sesame Street program that will help support kids with incarcerated parents.

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Jun 13 2013
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America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids: Recommended Reading

U.S. News & World Report has added a new set of rankings, “America's 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids” to its just released annual report on the Best Children’s Hospitals. The top counties have some important measures including fewer infant deaths, fewer low-birth-weight babies, fewer deaths from injuries, fewer teen births and fewer children in poverty than lower ranked counties. Most of the measures were taken from this year’s County Health Rankings, a collaboration of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to U.S. News, “America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids,” represents the first national, county-level assessment of how health and environmental factors affect the well-being of children younger than 18 and shows that even the highest-ranking counties grapple with challenges such as large numbers of children in poverty and high teen birth rates.

>>Read the full U.S. News & World Report article.

Jun 11 2013
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Hill Event Explores Value of Data to Inform Efforts to Improve Women's Health

Last week, a lunch briefing hosted by Women’s Policy, Inc., a national nonprofit that focuses on women’s issues, brought together a packed house of policymakers, public health leaders, academics, and legislative staff in key Congressional offices to discuss how data can inform action around women's and population health.

The briefing focused on the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute that measures the health of every county in the United States and provides tools to help create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their own communities. Measuring health outcomes like length and quality of life along with health factors like education, income, and obesity rates, the Rankings provide an annual snapshot of where counties are doing well and where they can improve.

In turn, the Roadmaps to Health program helps counties partner with other local leaders to use that data to improve the health of residents. One of the featured speakers at the briefing was Claude-Alix Jacob, Chief Public Health Officer of Cambridge, Mass., one of six inaugural winners of RWJF’s Roadmaps to Health Prize.

Jacob pointed out the value of having data to work with determining where to put resources in order to improve community health. Women’s health data points of in Cambridge include:

  • Girls reported slightly higher rates of smoking and binge drinking than boys
  • Girls reported rates three times higher than boys of verbal abuse.
  • Girls reported being three times more likely to hurt themselves than boys
  • 87 percent of eligible women have had Pap smears, and 85.5 have had mammograms
  • One-third of single mothers live in poverty

One key program that Jacob pointed to that Cambridge has begun is Baby University, a free 16-week innovate program designed for parents with children from birth to age 3. The goal is to increase parents’ knowledge  about child-rearing topics, strengthen parent-child relationships and connect parents to community resources. “While the first few cycles have largely included only moms,” said Jacob, “ the two most recent cycles have included more dads.”

The program includes childcare and transportation costs for enrolled parents, as well as home visits by professional staff. Parents who complete the program become part of an alumni association that continues the relationship between the parents and the program staff. So far, the program has had 140 graduates.

>>Read more about the briefing from the County Health Rankings blog.

>>Bonus Link: Among the resources for improving community health discussed at the Women Policy Inc. briefing was the “Town Hall Meeting in a Box” to help facilitate community conversations. The toolkit includes invitation samples, venue ideas and presentation documents. See more County Health Rankings & Roadmaps resources here.