Category Archives: Public policy
Tomorrow, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) will hold a conference call for medical personnel. The call will review and underline safeguards needed to help protect health workers who will be called on to help with care for U.S. Ebola patients, should more cased be diagnosed.
The first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States died in Dallas last week; a second, a nurse who looked after that patient, was confirmed yesterday by the CDC to have the virus. She is in isolation in a Dallas hospital.
CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said the infected nurse may have contracted the disease through a “breach in protective gear protocol.” However, Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, a bioethicist and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said this morning on MSNBC that he thought the problem was not so much a breach as the need for greater implementation. Medical checklist guru Atul Gawande, MD, agrees. In a short piece titled “Ebola is Stoppable” in The New Yorker last week, Gawande wrote “The main challenge is taking off the protective personal equipment—that’s when it is easiest to contaminate yourself.”
Public health experts are assessing what changes to make to reduce the chance of transmission without making suiting up so cumbersome that health workers are tempted to skip steps. At yesterday’s press conference, Frieden said that there have been reports out of West Africa of health workers who contaminated themselves when they pricked themselves with a clean needle that came in contact with contaminated gloves. For now, the procedures laid out in posters from the CDC on how to don and remove protective clothing remain in place.
>>Bonus Link: Over the weekend, an article in the Los Angeles Times questioned a key component of assessing people who may be infected with Ebola—assuming that they are not contagious if they don’t have fever. The study, funded by the World Health Organization and published online last month in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed data on 3,343 confirmed and 667 probable cases of Ebola, finding that thirteen percent did not have a fever. U.S. public health experts told the Times that they continue to view fever as the key indicator that the virus is transmissible to other people.
Idea Gallery is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth in which guest authors provide their perspective on issues affecting public health. Today, Jeffrey Levi, PhD, Executive Director of Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), writes about the importance of identifying and implementing policies and practices that can benefit health across all populations.
I go to countless meetings where people debate the meaning of “population health”—often for hours and with no resolution.
What’s become clear to me is that no matter what perspective we’re coming from, our actual goal for population health is the same. We want to improve the health of Americans.
But, at the end of day, the problem may be that the hang up on a clear definition is getting in the way of solving one of the health system’s most pressing problems: How do we get the different silos of the system to work better together and improve health inside and outside the doctor’s office?
Because this is so vital, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has supported an upcoming National Forum on Hospitals, Health Systems and Population Health, which will go beyond semantics to specifically identify policies and practices that can benefit health, no matter what population you’re talking about. Some of the below examples will be highlighted at the National Forum.
Hennepin Health, a Social Accountable Care Organization (ACO)
When Minnesota expanded Medicaid to a poor, childless adult population in Hennepin County, the relevant parties formed a social ACO, called Hennepin Health. The ACO is comprised of Hennepin County Medical Center; NorthPoint Health and Wellness (a Federally Qualified Health Center); Metropolitan Health Plan; and the county’s Human Services and Public Health Department (including Health Care for the Homeless, the county’s Mental Health Center and other social services). The County has a global budget to spend annually, and the partners take on all the risk as they bill the plan per service and then, at the end of the year, split the gains or losses.
Hennepin Health serves more than 6,000 enrollees. Of this group, 45 percent have chemical dependencies, 42 percent have mental health needs, 32 percent have unstable housing and 30 percent suffer from at least two chronic diseases.
Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Andrea Gielen, the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently awarded $4 million to the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health to further fund its work on injury prevention research and policy development. According to the CDC, injuries are the leading cause of death in the United States among people ages 1 to 44, costing the country $406 billion each year. And across the globe, 16,000 people die from largely preventable injuries every day.
“This funding will allow us to advance our work in closing the gap between research and practice in new and innovative ways,” said Andrea Gielen, ScD, ScM, the center’s director. “Whether fatal or non-fatal, injuries take an enormous toll on communities. Our faculty, staff and students are dedicated to preventing injuries and ameliorating their effects through better design of products and environments, more effective policies, increased education and improved treatment.”
The five-year grant will support several innovative research projects on key issues, including evaluating motor vehicle ignition interlock laws, studying universal bicycle helmet policies, testing m-Health tools to reduce prescription drug overdose and evaluating programs to prevent falls among older adults. The center will also continue to offer training and education to public health students and practitioners, as well as to new audiences that can contribute to injury prevention.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Gielen about the CDC grant
NewPublicHealth: What are the goals for each of the four research areas for which you’ve received funding?
Andrea Gielen: Each of the four is a full research projects with specific aims. For example, with ignition interlock laws—which are car ignitions that can’t start unless a breathalyzer confirms that a driver is sober—there’s been a little bit of evidence that they reduce alcohol-related motor vehicle crash injuries and deaths, but there are two gaps. There has never been a national study of the impact of these laws, and we don’t know a whole lot about how they’re implemented. What is it about ignition interlock policies and how they’re implemented that’s really related to their impact on reducing fatal crashes?
We want to look at all four projects in the same way: We’ll be looking at barriers and facilitators to how policies that we think are effective are adopted and implemented, and what it is about that adoption and implementation of the processes that make these policies effective.
In the last few days, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders have sounded alarms on the growing needs of several countries in West Africa fighting the Ebola outbreak. The groups have called for increased funding, equipment and expert health personnel to help stem the rapidly increasing numbers of infections.
As of last week, there have been more than 3,000 cases and more than 1,500 deaths, making it by far the largest outbreak since Ebola was discovered during the 1970s, according to the WHO. CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, who last week visited the main West African countries dealing with the Ebola outbreak, said the number of cases could spike to 20,000 if more isn’t done to stem spread of the disease in those countries.
In addition, a recent post on ForeignPolicy.com said that the epidemic must be controlled before it also poses a security threat. Liberia, which has seen the highest number of Ebola cases and deaths in the region so far, has been under the watch of an international United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping force since a civil war ended in 2003. While the U.N. had planned to begin drawing down the force next year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he’d like to delay any drawdown for at least three months because of the virus outbreak, which has needed troops to help secure order.
However, several countries want to pull out troops now in order to reduce the risk to their personnel and to citizens at home who they worry could be infected by returning soldiers. Ban has said that the nature of the illness poses little risk to the troops, who are unlikely to have contact with the bodily fluids of people who are ill—which is the way the virus spreads—and some of the countries involved are considering sending their own experts to assess the risks.
A 2012 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and Trust for America’s Health concluded that if the adult and childhood obesity rates in 2011 continued to increase at their steady paces, then by 2030 nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults would be obese and every single state would have obesity rates above 44 percent.
Data now show that childhood obesity rates have stabilized. In fact, for the first time in a decade the obesity rates among young children from low-income families in many states is trending down.
Helping lead the way in this important public health issue has been the city of Philadelphia, Penn., which has worked to improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.
“We were very fortunate in Philadelphia to have colleagues...who have developed a better understanding of childhood obesity,” said Don Schwarz, former Health Commissioner and Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity, City of Philadelphia, and will also soon take on the role of director for RWJF’s Demand Team. “What that has meant is that Philadelphia was able to take a body of knowledge and bring it to scale. The partnership in Philadelphia that has allowed that to happen goes across government and between government and the private sector and community organizations—just everyday Philadelphians. So that kind of partnership, that wonderful knowledge base, has I believed turned the corner on childhood obesity, particularly for children who are of disadvantaged communities.”
Schwarz’s comments came during the Tuesday, July 22 Google Hangout TEDMED Great Challenges: A Candid Conversation About Childhood Obesity. The panel was moderated by Richard Besser, Chief Health and Medical Editor for ABC News.
Every member of the panel echoed the importance of partnerships, and Besser succinctly explained their critical role in not just obesity prevention but all public health efforts.
“The more creatively you can think and the wider variety of partners you can pull in, the more likely you are to be successful,” he said.
At the heart of Philadelphia’s success has been the important role that schools play in that community partnership. According to Schwarz, for the past decade the city’s schools have worked to reshape how they approach children’s health and wellbeing, including comprehensive nutrition policies, a new food environment that emphasizes healthy choices and more opportunities for kids to be physically active. One can’t be successful without the other.
A new climate change report, Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States, suggests that the American economy could face significant and widespread disruptions from climate change unless U.S. businesses and policymakers take immediate action to reduce climate risk. The report was released by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
The assessment of the committee that wrote and reviewed the report is that communities, industries and properties across the country face profound risks from climate change, but that the most severe risks can be avoided through early investments in resilience, as well as through immediate action to reduce the pollution that causes global warming.
The public health findings of the report were reviewed by Al Sommer, MD, Dean Emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. NewPublicHealth spoke with Sommer about the report.
NewPublicHealth: How did the report come about?
Al Sommer: The report came about because of the primary interest of the three co-chairs—Hank Paulson, investor Tom Styra and Mike Bloomberg—who felt that there was a need to better understand and better describe the possible public health impacts of climate change on businesses and labor productivity. Their goal is to engage the interest of business leaders so that they begin to think about the ramifications and perhaps see the problems of climate change from a totally different perspective than we usually talk about it.
I think from my own personal perspective that one of the great advantages of this report is that the group that did the analyses stuck with the data and the assumptions, and used sophisticated modeling and statistical analyses to give a range of outcomes. The most important part of the report from my perspective is that it has a granularity that most of the [climate change] reports don’t have, so it looks at likely outcomes in different regions of the country simultaneously.
In some instances, it looks like there is no change. There is reduced mortality in the northern part of the country because there is less freezing. But at the same time in the southern part of the country there’s dramatically increased mortality because of increased heat and humidity.
Far too many older people in generally good health find themselves without purpose—which is itself at cross purposes with the natural makeup of humans, according to Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, an expert on aging and the dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
“We are a species wired to feel needed, respected, and purposeful,” she wrote in the latest issue of The Atlantic. “The absence of those qualities is actually harmful to our health.”
The new article discusses the current research on the benefits of older people engaging in work that they are good at and enjoy. One example, Experience Corps—which Fried cofounded and which is now hosted by the AARP—seeks to leverage “the investments in one age group in order to benefit many stakeholders.”
Another example is the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, which provides a model for developing public-private partnerships. In New York City, the Age-Friendly NYC Commission was established in 2010 in partnership with the New York City Council and The New York Academy of Medicine. The underlying premise, according to Fried, was that the active participation of older residents in all aspects of city life is essential to the growth and health of the city, and that creating the conditions to achieve this is an important investment in public health.
Read the full story from The Atlantic, “Making Aging Positive.”
>>Bonus Link: Read a previous NewPublicHealth post on the Age-Friendly NYC Commission.
Hurricane season began yesterday and runs through the end of November. New this year for the season are storm surge maps from the National Weather Service (NWS) to underscore the danger that a surge poses during a severe storm. Storm surge is an abnormal rise of water generated by a storm, over and above the predicted tide levels, according to the NWS. “Most people see wind as the key threat in a tropical storm or hurricane, but surge can be far more deadly,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the NWS.
The new, color-coded maps will be updated every six hours during storms that pose a surge risk along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts. The maps highlight:
- Geographical areas where inundation from storm surge could occur
- How high above ground the water could reach in those areas
- Inundation levels that have a 10 percent chance of being exceeded
Maps will be available 45 minutes to an hour after each new advisory, to give cartographers time to plot their points.
The new maps are experimental for two years. The NWS will be collecting and reviewing public comments, and then afterward decide whether the maps will become a permanent product. Even if they don’t, say public health experts, the model maps are important right now in order to educate the public about the threat posed by a surge—even at fairly low heights.
For example, six inches of water can knock over an adult and two feet of water is all that’s needed to carry an SUV, according to the data from the NWS.
The NWS’ Feltgen said Hurricane Sandy is an important example to share when explaining storm surge because of the damage that storm’s surge did to inland communities. For instance, the surge knocked out power to many financial firms on Wall Street, which were then powered by generators as repairs went on for months after the storm. And many residents of high rise apartment buildings in Manhattan and other parts of New York City were stranded or limited to stairs until the electricity was fixed and elevators could run.
Other storm surge facts:
- More than half of the nation's economic productivity is located within coastal zones
- 72 percent of ports, 27 percent of major roads and 9 percent of rail lines within the Gulf Coast region are at or below 4 ft. elevation.
- A storm surge of 23 feet has the ability to inundate 67 percent of interstates, 57 percent of arterials, almost half of rail miles, 29 airports and virtually all ports in the Gulf Coast area.
>>Bonus Link: The National Weather Service has a fact site on storm surge, including photos of the havoc wreaked by surge episodes.
May is Foster Care Awareness Month, an observance aimed at focusing attention on the 400,000 children in foster care, many of whom often are bounced from home to home only to age out of the system at 18 without community or family ties. A report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) released yesterday found that 42 states reported that they face major challenges placing large sibling groups in foster care, 38 states face challenges placing foster students near their most recent school and 31 reported they face challenges providing appropriate housing after a child in foster care ages out of the system.
A second GAO report released this week found that children in foster care group homes were twice as likely to be given psychotropic drugs than children in foster homes, and children in foster care were more likely to be given the drugs than children in the general community. Many of the drugs have serious side effects—including suicidal thoughts—and require oversight by guardians and doctors. However, but often children in foster care—particularly in group homes—who are taking psychotropic drugs are not well monitored. The GAO recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide improved guidance to state Medicaid, child-welfare and mental-health officials regarding prescription-drug monitoring and oversight for children in foster care receiving psychotropic medications through Managed Care Organizations.
Child advocates say much more needs to be done to effectively place foster children in safe, nurturing homes, as well as to support foster families in adopting children and creating permanent homes and families. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Dave Roberts, a county supervisor in San Diego, who together with his husband is raising five adopted children, ages 5 to 18, who started their lives with the family as foster children. Roberts has been a health policy advisor to Presidents Bush and Obama and played a key role in developing Tricare, the health insurance system of the U.S. Department of Defense.
NewPublicHealth: What drew you and your husband to consider having foster children grow up in your home?
Dave Roberts: We left Washington, D.C., where we had been living, and moved to San Diego where my husband is from and the first year we were here we went to the Del Mar Fair and the county had a booth there advertising their foster to adopt program. And so we signed up for the program and went through the process, and Robert [almost 19 and planning to enter the U.S. Air Force in the fall] was our first child. He was four going on five when he came to live with us.
Recent decisions by a number of states to legalize, or consider legalizing, marijuana has prompted the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to update two guides: Marijuana Facts for Teens and Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know.
According to NIDA, marijuana remains the most abused illegal substance among young adults. By the time they graduate high school, about 46 percent of U.S. teens will have tried marijuana at least once. And although marijuana use among teens dropped dramatically in the last ten years, use of the drug is on the upswing again. Approximately 12.4 percent of students reported use in the month before being surveyed in 2007; in 2013, nearly 23 percent of high school seniors reported current marijuana use and 6.5 percent used marijuana daily.
NIDA’s annual Monitoring the Future survey, which has been tracking teen attitudes and drug use since 1975, shows that use of marijuana over time is directly related to how safe teens perceive the drug to be. The most recent survey shows that the number of teens who think marijuana users risk harming themselves is declining, even though studies have shown that the impacts of marijuana use can include a permanently lower IQ, poor school performance, psychosis, panic and impaired driving. A study earlier this month in JAMA Pediatrics found that college-age men dispute the idea that marijuana can impact their driving.
“The subject of marijuana use has become increasingly difficult to talk about—in part, because of the mixed messages being conveyed by the passage of medical marijuana laws and legalization of marijuana in some states,” said NIDA director Nora Volk. “In addition, many parents of today’s teens may have used marijuana when they were younger, which could make talking openly and setting definitive rules about its use more difficult.”
“Sometimes,” he added, “just beginning the conversation is the hardest part. I hope these booklets can help.”
The updated booklets include new data on marijuana use; new evidence-based information on the potential harms of marijuana; and information on the highly dangerous and even lethal K2/Spice, also referred to as synthetic marijuana.
Marijuana Facts for Teens is also available in print; Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know will be available in print soon.
>>Bonus Link: Read an interview with Alexander Wagenaar, PhD, a Professor in the Institute for Child Health Policy at the University of Florida, who recently moderated a webinar on the public health perspectives of legalizing marijuana.