Category Archives: Public policy
“Five years after the Great Recession officially came to an end, the United States has yet to fully recover from the economic devastation sparked by the collapse of an $8 trillion housing bubble and the ensuing turmoil that saw global financial systems teetering on the brink of collapse. But while the economic costs of the downturn have drawn the lion’s share of attention, the damage to our bodies could end up far surpassing the damage to our bank accounts.”
Those are the opening lines of a new special report from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), “Failing Economy, Failing Health: The Great Recession’s Toll on Body and Mind,” detailing how poverty and inequality resulting from the economic maelstrom pulled down so many—and what that will mean for public health in the long term.
“Health is a long-run thing, but the methods we use to analyze current data only estimate short-term effects,” says SV Subramanian, HSPH professor of population health and geography. “It may take awhile for the health impact of the Great Recession to kick in, but once it does, it could be dramatic.”
The data is strong on the links between employment and health—people who are unemployed, underemployed or laid off are less healthy and don’t live as long.
A 2009 study found that in the 12 months after men lost their jobs in mass layoffs, they saw their chances of dying nearly double. While over time the risk lessened it was still significant two decades later. Another study that same year found that losing a job when a business shuts its doors increases the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no preexisting health conditions while also increasing the risk of new health conditions by 83 percent. The stress of the situation, according to the researchers, heightens the odds of stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and psychiatric problems.
Yet another study, this one in 2010, found that about 4 in 10 Americans with heart disease or diabetes and 1 in 5 with cancer said the stress of the Great Recession made it more difficult to manage their illnesses.
What’s more complex is unearthing the pathways behind why this is the case. The HSPH article outlines some of the mechanisms by which unemployment affects health.
On Thursday, April 17, from 1-2 p.m. (ET), the Network for Public Health Law, Public Health Law Research and the American Society of Law Medicine and Ethics (ASLME) will be holding a free webinar around public health perspectives on regulating non-medical marijuana in states where it has been made legal or decriminalized. Whatever course a state may take, public health’s expertise and experience in public policy means it should be a major voice in the discussion surrounding legislation from the very start. The issue is a critical one now as Colorado and Washington State have legalized the commercial production, distribution and sale of marijuana for non-medical use and a number of other states are considering similar legislation.
“Policy-makers, advocates and others are grappling with how to process licenses, develop regulations and manage production in an industry that is still largely illegal both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Alexander Wagenaar, PhD, Professor in the Institute for Child Health Policy at the University of Florida who will be the moderator for the webinar.
The webinar’s aim is to provide an overview of issues related to non-medical marijuana regulation through, among other things, the lessons learned from decades of alcohol and tobacco regulation and through insights from Washington State’s recent implementation of a marijuana law with participant Laura Hitchcock, JD, Policy, Research & Development Specialist in the public health department of Seattle & King County in Washington State. Additional speakers include Beau Kilmer, PhD, Co-Director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and Amanda Reiman, PhD, the Policy Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance of California.
>>Register for the webinar Regulating Non-Medical Marijuana: Lessons Learned and Paths Forward.
Ahead of the webinar, NewPublicHealth spoke with Wagenaar about who in public health will find the webinar important, as well as public health’s role both before and after a jurisdiction considers legalizing non-medical marijuana.
NewPublicHealth: Who is the webinar primarily geared toward?
Alexander Wagenaar: There are lots of different audiences that are interested in this, including the public health research community such as academics, scientists, health department and agency staff who are looking at the issue or will be looking at it in the future.
With just seven days to go until the announced deadline for its first round of funding, the front runner to reach its goal on UCLA Spark—a new crowdfunding platform hosted by the university—is a public health initiative, the UCLA Sex Squad School Tour 2014. The Squad is a multimedia theatre troupe made up of University of California, Los Angeles students and graduates who talk to high school students about sex and sexual health.
Crowdfunding uses social media to encourage contributions from strangers for projects of all kinds. Sites such as Kickstarter have raised millions of dollars for multiple projects, including one by three U.S. State Department officials who raised enough capital to start their own dress sock business.
UCLA Spark’s projects are way loftier. The four other projects in the first round of funding on the site, which debuted last month, include a program to connect ninth-grade girls with technology, a bus to transport campus volunteers to community service projects, funds to help preserve the Watts Towers, (an iconic Los Angeles monument) and expansion of cancer treatment in Ethiopia.
Nancy Katano, Executive Director of Corporate Foundation and Research Relations at UCLA, says the idea for a crowdfunding platform at the university came about because two things converged: The university began getting faculty and student requests for help funding some very small niche projects—beyond the scope for most grants—and Katano began receiving calls from crowdfunding platforms looking to contract with the university. Katano says using an outside platform would have lost too much money for the projects since the platforms take a fee as well as a percentage of funds raised, so instead the university launched its own platform.
To become a UCLA Spark project, faculty and official student organizations propose projects for funding through an online application and a UCLA vetting committee makes the final decision.
“We’ve set up a whole series of guidelines and then we have a face-to-face meeting for applicants to help them think through how the platform can be effective for them—what’s realistic and what their responsibility is going to be,” said Katano. “With most crowdfunding platforms engagement is key. We ask them about their social media reach, do they use Twitter? Do they use Facebook? Are they comfortable shooting video?"
The Network for Public Health Law and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Public Health Law Program will host a webinar on Wednesday, March 26, 2:00-3:30 p.m. (ET), on cooperation between hospitals and local health departments on community health assessments, a new requirement for non-profit hospitals under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
The ACA creates several new requirements for nonprofit hospitals to maintain tax-exempt status. One is that each hospital must conduct a community health needs assessment every three years, report on the needs identified and develop a strategy for responding to them.
In conducting the community health assessments, the law requires hospitals to get input from individuals with special knowledge of, or expertise in, public health. The goal of the assessment and follow up is to “reorient hospitals away from a primary focus on providing charity care and toward greater attention to community and population health issues,” says Mary Crossley, Professor of Law and former Dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, who served as a scholar in residence at the San Francisco Department of Health and worked on the community health assessment issue there.
Crossley will be a presenter during the upcoming webinar, together with Corey Davis, JD, MSPH, Staff Attorney at the National Health Law Program and the Network for Public Health Law Southeastern Region, and Molly Berkery, JD, MPH a Senior Attorney with the CDC Public Health Law Program.
The webinar topics include:
- The new community health needs assessment (CHNA) requirements for charitable 501(c)(3) hospitals
- CDC resources for implementing the CHNA process
- Strategies for moving from the assessment stage to broader population health initiatives, with an emphasis on health department and hospital collaboration
- CHNA case studies
Register for the webinar.
>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Mary Crossley.
>>Bonus Links: Read a selection of previous NewPublicHealth posts on community benefit:
As the demand for walkable communities keeps growing, experts are moving from asking “If they build it, will they come?” to questioning how to fund the new developments, as well as keeping our eyes on issues such as transit, affordability and improving population health. As of January sharing best practices for those and many other issues is the job of Chris Zimmerman, who recently joined the staff of Smart Growth America as Vice President for Economic Development, following a very long stint as a member of the Arlington County Board in Virginia. Before his post in Arlington, Zimmerman was Chief Economist and Committee Director for Federal Budget and Taxation at the National Conference of State Legislatures. In his new role, Zimmerman will focus on the relationships between smart growth strategies and the economic and fiscal health of communities.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Zimmerman soon after he landed in his new office.
NewPublicHealth: What did you do before joining Smart Growth America?
Chris Zimmerman: For the last 18 years I’ve been a member of the Arlington County Board, the governing body of Arlington County, Virginia, an urban county of about 220,000 people right next to Washington D.C. The county functions as a comprehensive local government, with functions from school funding to land use and development to standard municipal functions such as parks and recreation, public safety, waste removal and managing public infrastructure. We don’t run the schools, but the funds for the schools are part of the county budget, at a cost of a little more than $1 billion annually.
Arlington County has become a model for transit-oriented development that is studied by folks around the country and even around the world, particularly because of the way the county has chosen to develop around the Metro system. That includes the initial commitment to be involved in Metro Rail, to fund underground Metro stations and then to focus development around them, beginning even before the ideas of the vocabulary of Smart Growth and urbanism had really gotten started, decades ago.
Prior to serving on the county board, I served on the county’s planning commission and a number of other commissions. So I’ve had about 20 to 25 years of involvement in the development of every aspect of the community, including housing, planning development and economic development, and even agencies such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs Metro Rail and Metro Bus and every other regional transportation planning body there is here in Washington. I was involved in a lot of regional transportation issues that obviously were fundamental to our county because of the way we chose to develop and because of where we’re located. There are seven crossings of the Potomac River and five of them go through Arlington, so although there are a couple hundred thousand people in Arlington, there’s a million and a half or so in northern Virginia and large numbers of them go through Arlington every day.
“Building a culture of health means recognizing that while Americans’ economic, geographic, or social circumstances may differ, we all aspire to lead the best lives that we can,” wrote Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourrey, MD, MBA in her 2014 President’s Message, released earlier this week. Laying out the plans for achieving those goals, Lavizzo-Mourrey added: “for the Foundation, it also means informing the dialogue and building demand for health by pursuing new partnerships, creating new networks to build momentum, and standing on the shoulders of others also striving to make America a healthier nation.”
The Foundation’s wide-ranging plans to “inform the dialogue” included a plenary talk by Mark McClellan, co-chair of the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America, and a former head of both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. McClellan spoke at the AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., last week — less than a month after the release of the Commission’s 2014 report.
“To become healthier and reduce the growth of public and private spending on medical care, we must create a seismic shift in how we approach health and the actions we take,” said McClellan, “As a country, we need to expand our focus to address how to stay healthy in the first place.”
McClellan told a very attentive audience that critical needed changes include:
- Improve opportunities [for people] to make healthy decisions where we live, learn, work and play
- Improve access to a good education, jobs and health care
- Work across sectors, collaborating to improve the health of all Americans
- Make investing in America’s youngest children a high priority
- Fundamentally change how we revitalize neighborhoods, fully integrating health into community development
- Adopt new health “vital signs” to assess non-medical indicators for health such as jobs, income, housing, transportation and access to healthy food.
- Create incentives tied to reimbursement for health professionals and health care institutions to address non-medical factors that affect health.
McClellan cited two examples of organizations that are addressing issues beyond healthcare in order to improve health:
- Health Leads, a national health care organization, enables physicians and other health professionals to systematically screen patients for food, heat, and other basic resources that patients need to be healthy and “prescribe” these resources for patients.
- The Medical-Legal Partnership program removes legal barriers that impede health for low-income populations by integrating legal professionals into the care team. These volunteers intervene with landlords, social service agencies, and others to address health-harming conditions ranging from lack of utilities to bedbugs to mold in rental properties.
- Read Risa Lavizzo-Mourrey’s President’s Message
- Read the report of the 2014 Commission to Build a Healthier America
The fallout from this week’s snowstorm in Atlanta was a hot topic among many of the county officials attending the National Association of Counties (NACo) Health Initiative Forum in San Diego. Many have had to make tough decisions on crises in their communities—from flu to flooding to snow to shootings—and the consensus was that the snarled traffic, kids left to stay overnight in schools and thousands of cars abandoned marked a failure not of adequate preparation, but of communication and preparedness.
“You can’t know what disaster might hit, so you have to be prepared for everything,” said Linda Langston, NACo’s president and the supervisor of Linn County, Iowa, who has chosen resilient counties as her President’s initiative.
Langston said several steps can help reduce the trauma from disasters, including designating someone in each community to coordinate response, to stay up to date on dealing with emergencies, to building relationships among intersecting communities so that people trust each other in a disaster and to convening meetings with all sectors at the table. Langston pointed out that while schools and businesses don’t typically plan together, in the case of Atlanta’s snow storm most students and workers left the city for the suburbs at the same time of day, increasing traffic at the height of icy conditions. That might have been avoided by having a large pool of participants at the planning table.
“By inviting a member of the chamber of commerce, for example, to preparedness meetings and exercises, decisions can be made on traffic flow and other crowd control issues in the event of an emergency,” she said.
Langston, whose community saw devastating flooding in 2008, said recent preparations for possible flooding (that thankfully never happened) made city managers and the sheriff’s department—which controls the jail—realize they needed to coordinate on evacuation plans in the event of an emergency.
“And if the emergency never occurs, all those planning exercises create a more cohesive community, able to deal with run of the mill disasters like budget cuts, “ said Langston.
From antibiotic-resistant superbugs to the seasonal flu to Salmonella, infectious diseases are a serious health threat that also cost individuals and the health care industry billions. A new report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases, assesses gaps in our public health system that could severely limit our ability to effectively respond to an outbreak.
NewPublicHealth created an infographic that illustrates many of the key findings of the new report.
A new report from Trust for America’s Health finds that despite recommendations by medical experts about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, an estimated 45,000 adults and 1,000 children die from vaccine-preventable diseases each year in the United States.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Litjen (L.J) Tan, MS, PhD, chief strategy officer of the Immunization Action Coalition, to ask about ongoing efforts to improve immunization rates among all age groups across the nation. The Coalition works to increase immunization rates and prevent disease by creating and distributing educational materials for health professionals and the public and facilitates communication about the safety, efficacy, and use of vaccines within the broad immunization community of patients, parents, health care organizations, and government health agencies. The Coalition is supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NewPublicHealth: What are the critical gaps in immunization in the United States—for children and adults?
Litjen Tan: Immunization rates are really high in our childhood population, but generally not at all high in the adult population, though for some vaccines the rates are improving. We are also not doing very well for adolescents. On the broader level I think what the immunization rates reflect is the state of preventive care in the United States when you come out of childhood, which is why I think the Affordable Care Act really is a great boon. We’ve got this wonderful preventive care model for our kids; we take our kids in, we get them their shots, they get protected and we’ve got high coverage rates generally over 90 percent for all major vaccines. We have almost no vaccine-preventable disease in the United States except for instances linked to pockets of populations that haven’t been vaccinated—as we’ve seen recently with measles.
But then we get to adolescence we have this breakdown. Rates for HPV vaccination are not so good. Our meningococcal vaccination rates are not where they should be and neither are the tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster rates in adolescents. What happens with the adolescents is parents don’t necessarily bring them in for prevention checkups anymore. We bring them in when there’s a problem or when they need a school sports visit, and so we plant in adolescents this idea that care is no longer about prevention but care is now about acute care, and that persists into adulthood. This is the thinking that stops us from saying, “hey, do I need my vaccines? When should I get them?”
We need to make sure that our adolescents get the idea that vaccines prevent disease and that they actually do have vaccines that are recommended for them and then I think we’ll begin to see an appreciation of immunizations for adults as well.
NPH: Do we need to target both parents and the adolescents themselves?
Tan: Absolutely, but there’s a lot of discussion about how we do that. It gets a little tricky because we push autonomy of the adolescent, and we have a precedent in public health—discussions between providers and adolescents about sexually transmitted infections—but there are a lot of legislative and regulatory barriers against directly talking to an adolescent in the absence of a parent.
A session on health in all policies at the American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting in Boston gave prominent attention to a newly released publication on the topic: An Introduction to Health in All Policies: A Guide for State and Local Governments. The guide was issued collaboratively by APHA, the California Endowment, the California Department of Health and the Public Health Institute.
It was released last month and is geared, according to its authors, “toward state and local government leaders who want to use intersectoral collaboration to promote healthy environments.”
The guide includes a history of health in all policies, case studies, a glossary, messaging, resources and a list of critical thinking questions. It draws heavily on the experiences of the California Health in All Policies Task Force, which was created in 2010 by an executive order of the governor and grew out of a common interest among several California agencies in climate change, health and childhood obesity. The task force brings together non-government stakeholders and local government representatives in its “health-in-all-policies” work through workshops, meetings and opportunities for public comment and testimony.
The Guide emphasizes that there is no one “right” way to implement a health-in-all-policies approach, but puts forward five key elements:
- Promote health, equity and sustainability
- Support for Intersectoral collaboration
- Benefit multiple partners
- Engage stakeholders
- Create structural or procedural change
- Health Impact Assessments (HIA) are one of the key tools addressed in the new Guide. See a regularly updated map on HIAs in the United States created by the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
- HIA was front and center at the American Public Health Association meeting, with more than thirty presentations this week. Read a summary of the HIAs discussed at the meeting, prepared by the Health Impact Project.
>>NewPublicHealth was on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Find the complete coverage here.