Category Archives: Nurses and Nursing
We’ve written extensively on NewPublicHealth on the importance of building a Culture of Health—an environment where everyone has access to opportunities to make healthy choices. In June, the Washington Post held a live forum—sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—titled “Health Beyond Health Care,” which looked at how creative minds in traditionally non-health fields are working together to build a Culture of Health in the United States. As part of our continuing coverage of this issue we spoke with Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company, about workplace wellness programs.
NewPublicHealth: Why do you think workplace wellness is important?
Catherine Baase: I guess it depends on “important” in what way. I’ll tell you two things. One is if you were asking me why it’s important to a business or a corporation, I think it brings critical value to many different corporate priorities—things such as safety, human capital priorities such as attracting and retaining talent, manufacturing reliability, the capacity to positively impact health care costs. So there’s a landscape of corporate priorities where the achievement of healthy people is important, even including job satisfaction and employee engagement.
But on another lens, I would say that I think workplace wellness is important to society for the achievement of public health objectives. The fact that we’re not doing really well on the achievement of health outcomes for our population as a whole, and the achievement of improved health will depend on a variety of sectors of society getting involved, and one of them is workplaces. Others are schools and communities and things like that, but the achievement of public health objectives depends a bit on workplaces being involved, as well.
NPH: Who is it that benefits from workplace wellness?
Baase: Well I think the individuals, the employees and oftentimes their families, because a lot of workplace wellness programs either directly or indirectly impact the family. It’s the community within which folks live because the culture is impacted, and the company certainly.
For the last several years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been promoting a concept called “Total Worker Health,” which combines safety programs to prevent accidents on the job with health promotion programs such as smoking cessation. The idea is that emerging evidence recognizes that both work-related factors and health factors that are often beyond the workplace together contribute to many health and safety problems for employees and their families.
A new report in the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) shows why the combination can be critical, finding that the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke is higher for blue-collar and service workers than it is for white-collar workers. Studies have suggested that before, but the new MMWR recommends strategies that companies can implement to reduce that risk.
In the new report, CDC researcher Sarah Luckhaupt, MD, analyzed National Health Interview Survey data for 2008-2012. She found that the prevalence of a history of CHD or stroke among people ages 18 to 55 was 1.9 percent for employed adults, but among the employed the risk was 40 percent higher in blue-collar workers (e.g. construction workers and truck drivers) and 53 percent higher in service workers (e.g. hairdressers and restaurant servers). Luckhaupt says that job stress, shift work, exposure to particulate matter, noise and secondhand smoke are all likely contributing factors to the higher rates of CHD and stroke.
In a conversation with NewPublicHealth, Luckhaupt said that employers can help improve the health profiles of employees by using the Total Worker Health program, launched by CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health three years ago as a guideline for workplace wellness programs. CDC now publishes quarterly reports on effective Total Worker Health programs established by employers across the United States. Recent examples include:
- Live Well/Work Well at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in N.H., which aims to improve worker safety and health at the medical center.
- Hearing loss prevention at the Domtar Paper Company in Kingsport, Tenn., and the 3M manufacturing plant in Hutchinson, Minn., which address both noise reduction exposure on the job and in the community.
- A “Culture of Health” at Lincoln Industries, a manufacturing factory in Lincoln, Neb., which includes companywide stretching for 15 minutes every day to help prepare the muscles that will be used on the job; massage therapists who assess and treat people who may be at risk for injury; an on-site clinic for health maintenance, wellness coaching and acute care; counseling and support programs; and social and fitness events.
Rockingham County, N.C., is one of several counties profiled in videos produced for the 2014 report of the County Health Rankings, a joint project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and released yesterday. The Rankings shows how communities across the country are doing and how they can improve on their health.
Rockingham evolved from a wealthy county to a poor one very quickly after losing two major industries only a couple of decades ago. The community suffers from high general smoking rates, high obesity rates and high rates of smoking during pregnancy. When the 2010 County Health Rankings were released, Rockingham was ranked at 71 out of 100 counties on health measures. The community's poor standing served as a wake-up call.
One new program set to begin this spring is the Nurse-Family Partnership, a decades-old, evidence-based community health program that serves low-income women pregnant with their first child.
Nurse-Family Partnership is based on the work of David Olds, MD, a professor of pediatrics, psychiatry and preventive medicine at the University of Colorado Denver. While working in an inner-city day care center in the early 1970s, Olds was struck by the risks and difficulties in the lives of low-income children and over the next decades tested nurse home visitation for low income families in randomized controlled trials in Elmira, New York, Memphis, Tennessee and Denver. Results have shown that the program improved pregnancy outcomes; improved the health and development of children; and helped parents create a positive life course for themselves. There are now Nurse-Family Partnership programs in 43 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and six Indian tribal communities.
In the Nurse-Family Partnership programs, the mothers receive ongoing visits from the nurses in their homes from the first trimester until the baby is two years old. Program goals include:
- Improve pregnancy outcomes by helping the new mothers engage in good preventive health practices, including comprehensive prenatal care from their healthcare providers, improving their diets and reducing their use of cigarettes, alcohol and illegal substances.
- Improve child health and development by helping parents provide responsible and competent care.
- Improve the economic self-sufficiency of the family by helping parents develop a vision for their own future, plan future pregnancies, continue their education and find work.
According to Heather Adams, executive director of the Rockingham County Partnership for Children, there are about 5,000 children under the age of five in Rockingham County. Over half live in poverty and are born to mothers under the age of 20 and many of the children are in single parent households.
“The County Health Rankings really gave us some concrete data to show us what we knew anecdotally was really true,” said Adams. “Nurse-Family Partnership really rose to the top as a really strong program that could help meet some of our needs.”
As part of its County Health Rankings coverage, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Elly Yost, MSN, PNP, director of nursing practice at the Nurse-Family Partnership national office in Denver, Co. Yost is a pediatric nurse practitioner who previously worked in hospitals and community practice settings.
Health care professionals who smoke often represent a significant obstacle to getting patients to stop smoking. Among registered nurses (RNs) in particular—whose population historically has a high percentage of smokers—smoking limits their ability to be strong advocates for cessation interventions. In 2003, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) grantee Linda Sarna, PhD, RN, FAAN, began a study at the UCLA School of Nursing to monitor smoking rates among health care professionals, with an emphasis on RNs. The study showed a significant drop in smoking rates among registered nurses and the results were featured in the January special issue of the Journal of American Medicine, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark report on the health consequences of smoking.
The UCLA study found that the proportion of registered nurses who smoke dropped by more than a third from 2003 to 2011. While RN smoking rates held relatively steady between 2003 and 2007, they fell from 11 percent in 2007 to 7 percent in 2011. The drop represents a 36 percent decrease in smoking rates among RNs—more than double the 13 percent decline among the general U.S. population during the same time period. The study also found that RNs were more likely to quit smoking than the general population.
Tobacco Free Nurses, an RWJF-funded national campaign led by Sarna and Stella Aguinaga Bialous, DrPH, RN, helped to reduce the prevalence of smoking among RNs. Founded in 2003, the nurse-led program aimed to dissuade nurses from smoking in order to prevent smoking-related health issues among RNs and their patients. Tobacco Free Nurses works by supporting smoking cessation efforts among nurses and nursing students; encouraging nurses to advocate for a smoke-free society; and giving nurses tobacco control resources to help patients with cessation efforts.
In addition to the significant decline among registered nurses, the UCLA study found that smoking rates also fell for most other health care professionals. However, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) did not see any significant decreases. Approximately 25 percent of the LPN population still smokes, which is the highest percentage of smokers among health care professionals.
>>Bonus Link: Learn more about the last 50 years of tobacco control in RWJF’s interactive timeline.
Beginning later next year, more than a million workers in New York City will have a brand new, health-promoting benefit: paid sick leave days that guarantee wages on a set number of days when they or a family member they care for is ill.
The new law, passed last June by the New York City Council and overriding an earlier veto by the mayor, begins to go into effect in April 2014. New York now joins San Francisco, Calif., Washington, D.C., Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., and the state of Connecticut in adopting at least some sick leave provisions.
Not every employee in New York City will get paid sick leave under the new law. The bill that passed the City Council initially applies only to businesses with 20 or more employees, who will be required to provide five paid sick days a year; that extends to companies with 15 or more employees beginning October 1, 2015. Smaller businesses and manufacturing firms are exempt from the paid leave provisions for now, though these workers will gain five days of unpaid sick leave, so they can take time off without fear of losing their jobs. Advocates hope to extend paid leave to cover those workers before long.
Advocates say paid sick leave is critical for smaller businesses, and especially for low wage earners. A survey by the Community Service Society (CSS) of New York found that half of low-income respondents said they have less than $500 to fall back on in case of an emergency, and according to CSS, without compensation for sick days, people are often forced to choose between caring for themselves or a loved one and heading to work.
A 2012 study in the American Journal of Public Health shows why the measure that is critical to individuals and families is equally crucial to society as a whole. The study found that lack of certain workplace policies, including paid sick leave, led to an additional 5 million cases of adult H1N1 (swine flu) during the 2009 outbreak.
Funding for much of CSS’s advocacy came through a County Health Rankings & Roadmaps grant to focus on four areas in two New York City boroughs, the Bronx and Brooklyn, that have very poor health rankings. The goal was to build support among small businesses, faith-based organizations and low-wage workers for passage of the ordinance through grassroots events, town halls, story collection and media coverage, as well as by encouraging partners and allies to include this policy as part of their policy agendas. The grant runs through November 2014 and CSS will be focusing its efforts, now that legislation has passed, on creating awareness and implementation of the new law.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy at CSS about the new law and its impact.
NewPublicHealth: Key components of the legislation you advocated for passed. What’s next in your efforts on paid sick leave?
Nancy Rankin: We are continuing to work on this issue because we recognize that having a law pass is not the end of the story. We now need to do outreach to inform workers about their new rights and employers about their new requirements, because a new law requires compliance and it requires people to be aware of its provisions.
GUEST POST by John Skendall, Manager, Web and New Media at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).
“How much are we really doing in the area of worksite wellness? Are we walking the talk and serving our employees the way we should?” This question was posed by Paul Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), in a session on workplace wellness at the organization’s annual meeting last Friday in Orlando.
Jarris said that health departments can do more to foster wellness among employees in the states and territories. “We in public health are not leading in this area,” he said. “We are the laggards.”
>>Follow continued ASTHO Annual Meeting coverage on NewPublicHealth.org.
Terry Dwelle, state health official for the North Dakota Department of Health and moderator of the session, agreed. “Health departments must have a worksite wellness program. We need to practice what we preach,” said Dwelle. He also said that the business case for worksite wellness needs to be made to convince employers of the value of investing in wellness.
The business sector is a critical partner when it comes to promoting the health of a community. Employment, income and overall economic stability greatly impact employee and community health. Increasingly, businesses are expanding their efforts from worksite-based health promotion programs to community-wide initiatives to ensure their employees’ access to healthy choices and environments.
Next Tuesday at 3 p.m., a County Health Rankings webinar will take a look at how local health leaders and businesses can work together to advance the health improvement efforts in their communities. The webinar will feature guest speaker Cara McNulty, Senior Group Manager for Prevention and Wellness at Target Corporation, which according to webinar organizers is “known for its commitment to community giving.” McNulty will share examples and lessons learned from her experience at Target to answer key questions:
- What kinds of partnerships are businesses looking for?
- What do communities and businesses need to understand about each other in order to forge successful partnerships?
>>Join the webinar to learn how to build common ground with businesses in your community and advance community health together.
A recent vote by the Washington D.C. City Council requires large retailers to pay a minimum hourly wage of $12.50 an hour—$5.25 more than the current minimum wage of $7.25 nationally and $8.25 in D.C.— and the decision received wide attention, especially when retailers planning to build new stores in the city said they’d pull the plug on the projects if required to pay the higher salaries. But at least two recent magazine articles explain why there’s been a fervent recent push to try to push up the wages of those in low-paying jobs. New York Magazine recently surveyed 100 fast food restaurant employees in that city and asked, among other things, “can you live off your paycheck?” The answer appears to be no. The average pretax monthly pay for the surveyed workers was $984 while average monthly expenses including rent, utilities, groceries and cell phone bills was $1,115—which adds up to $131 more in expenses than pay.
>>Bonus Link: Why does income matter to health? See a NewPublicHealth infographic on how stable jobs and income lead to healthier lives.
And last weeks’ New Yorker Magazine added heft to the need to look at the current minimum wage rate, in light of just how critical that income is to many households. According to the article, while low-wage retail jobs were once squarely aimed at high school students looking for pocket money and those looking for supplemental income, in the last few years of stiff unemployment, studies find that current low-wage workers are responsible for 46 percent of household income. According to the New Yorker article, “Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years…still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family.”
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital portfolio’s blog, a forum for discussion about the challenges of building a diverse, well-trained health care workforce, features a “Day in the Life” series this week featuring public health nurses. With their own words, these nurses talk not just about what they do, but why they do it—the importance and meaning of their efforts.
For Anneleen Severynen, RN, MN, PHN, of the South King County Mobile Medical Unit for Public Health Seattle and King County in Washington State, it’s about being able to help one person at a time. Anneleen wrote about Charlie, a 60-year-old Native American man who started drinking at the age of 12, bounced around foster homes, returned from service in Vietnam hurting even more, and now calls himself a “lost cause” who expects to drink himself to death.
“As I sat silently, I listened to him grieve the loss of his culture and detail the many kinds of discrimination he has suffered. Though he spoke with the slurred speech of a chronic alcoholic, his eloquence moved me. I noticed tears in his eyes as he described a few happy childhood memories with his father—memories not quite lost to him.”
By helping him to open up she was also able to get Charlie to agree to a few medical tests. He was given a prescription for high blood pressure. She doesn’t know whether he’ll follow through, but she knows that because she took the time to listen, he now has a better chance.
“Every day I get the chance to make a difference in people’s lives, and to help them know that they matter. I can help one person at a time make small choices that will improve their lives and health. As long as there is someone to hear their stories, there are no lost causes.”
A new report funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and produced by the University of Michigan Center of Excellence in Public Health Workforce Studies offers—for the first time ever—a comprehensive assessment of the state of nursing and nurses in state and local health departments. Enumeration and Characterization of the Public Health Nurse Workforce: Findings of the 2012 Public Health Nurse Workforce Surveys looked at—among other things—size, composition, educational background experience, retirement intention, job function and job satisfaction of nurses.
RWJF recently spoke with Paul Kuehnert, MS, RN, CPNP, team director of Public Health at RWJF, and an alumnus of the RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows program, to discuss the report.
Among the report’s findings is that while public health nurses report high levels of job satisfaction, they’re also concerned with issues such as job stability, compensation and the lack of opportunities for advancement. It also found that about 40 percent of public health departments have “a great deal of difficulty” hiring nurses.
“It should be a high priority to address gaps and take steps to strengthen the public health nursing workforce,” said Pamela G. Russo, MD, MPH, RWJF senior program officer. “Public health nurses are likely to need training to keep pace with the changes as health care reform is implemented and public health agencies focus more on population health. The size, makeup, and preparation of the public health nursing workforce greatly affect the ability of agencies to protect and improve the health of people in their jurisdictions.”