Author Archives: NewPublicHealth

Inaugural Class of Frank Karel Public Interest Communications Fellows Get Started in DC

Jun 22, 2012, 2:03 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Visitors to Washington, DC, this month have seen an uptick in excitement as this year’s student volunteers and interns and fellows descend on the city and begin their work. Six of those students make up the inaugural class of Frank Karel Public Interest Communications Fellows, a program led by the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, which honors and advances the legacy of Frank Karel, who established and nurtured the field of strategic communications in philanthropy during his 30 years as chief communications officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation.

The program will build on Karel’s vision for expanding and diversifying the field of public interest communications. “We couldn’t be more honored and thrilled to be managing this Fellows program,” said Chuck Bean, President of the Nonprofit Roundtable. “We embrace communications as a critical piece of any strategy to advance health and human services, education, the environment and the arts. It’s not enough to simply do the good work that needs to be done; it’s the skill to persuasively communicate that moves ideas into action.”

Projects of the Inaugural Karel Fellows’ class include:

  • Outreach about the Maryland Dream Act for CASA de Maryland, which works to improve the quality of life and fight for equal treatment and full access to resources and opportunities for low-income immigrant communities and organizations.
  • A video sharing a client’s story for Mary’s Center, which delivers health care, education and social services to residents in need in the Washington metropolitan region.
  • A new website, training, advocacy tools and media outreach efforts for the Campaign for Youth Justice, dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under 18 in the adult criminal justice system.
  • Contributions to the social media plan for Aeras, which works on development of effective, affordable and sustainable tuberculosis (TB) vaccines.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

AcademyHealth Q&A: Lisa Simpson

Jun 21, 2012, 7:01 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

AcademyHealth will hold its Annual Research Meeting in Orlando, Fla., next week. NewPublicHealth spoke with AcademyHealth president and CEO Lisa Simpson, MD, MPH, about the focus of the meeting, including a renewed focus on public health.

NewPublicHealth: What’s new this year?

Lisa Simpson: There is a lot new at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting. Working with our board over the last year we updated our strategic plan and public and population health is one of our topic areas of priority to which we apply our core purpose, which is to develop new knowledge and move research into action.

This priority is seen throughout the upcoming meeting. One of the themes this year selected by our planning committee is Prevention, Public Health and Population Health Improvement. The theme had the second highest number of abstracts submitted. As a result we have two to three sessions in every time slot related to public health and prevention. In addition we have policy round tables and methods sessions on the topic, as well as the Public Health Systems Research Interest Group meeting, which will be the best attended of the interest group sessions.

Another new thing we’ve done this year is to have a public health day and offer free registration to local public health leaders and practitioners. We will have 19 local public health practitioners joining us.

NPH: What will they get from attending, and how do you think attendees might benefit from having the practitioners at the meeting?

Lisa Simpson: They will give a lot of the real world perspective of the struggles they are facing in promoting the health of the public and delivering public health services in the state of Florida. The Florida budget is much stressed and there have been many challenges, so this is an opportunity to bring that reality to the research community. What the invited practitioners get is an updated understanding of what we’re learning about what works in public health, and about return on investment, and cost and benefit of public health services. In addition, they will learn about the focus on prevention and population health in sectors outside traditional governmental public health, such as the role of employers, many of whom are now working with government health agencies.

NPH: What do you think prompted the recent increased interest in prevention and public health?

Lisa Simpson: I think it’s a combination of several factors coming together, most prominently cuts in state budgets. And not just in public health, but all actors in the health system have to take very critical looks at the effectiveness of what they’re doing in order to improve efficiency and get the biggest bang for the public health dollar. That really focuses a laser beam on what services work for which communities in order to achieve particular aims. And we’re learning from research by leaders such as Glen Mays and others that investment in public health reaps a return on investment.

NPH: It’s a long list to choose from, but what’s another meeting highlight you’d point out?

Lisa Simpson: Just as we did last year, we’ll have an innovation station where people can see new data sets, applications and tools relevant to the field. And attendees will be able to use their smart phones to text their votes for best poster—poster authors will wear their numbers.

We want to make it substantive, diverse, enjoyable and dynamic for participants.

NPH: How will you address a decision by the Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act during the conference?

Lisa Simpson: We’ve all been talking and thinking and prognosticating about what might happen. Fortuitously, we have a session scheduled for Tuesday morning, the third day of the meeting, with three experts, Sara Rosenbaum of George Washington University, Mark Hall of Wake Forest University Medical School and Tim Jost of Washington and Lee.

The session on Tuesday will go forward regardless of the decision. The reality is that health services research and health services and systems research are going to be critical to continue to provide the evidence base for the next steps, whether those next steps are implementing the Affordable Care Act or fashioning some other solution.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

Is Avoiding Injury Reason Enough to Compel Riders to Wear Bike Helmets?

Jun 19, 2012, 5:45 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

The town of Milton, Wash., has dropped its law requiring that bicyclists wear helmets, according to the New York Times. The town’s mayor supports their use but budget cuts and increased local unrest have reduced police ability to officially warn bareheaded cyclists. And that poses a liability risk if someone is injured and had not gotten a police warning, according to the town’s insurance consultant. The Mayor hopes personal safety will prompt town citizens to ride with their heads protected.

While more than twenty states have helmet laws, the debate about enforcing helmet use continues, in part because cycling advocates fear forcing bikers to wear a helmet could keep many from riding—and getting the benefits of exercise and reduced car use.

Weigh in: What arguments in favor of bike helmets have been effective in your community?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

AIDS: Update Your Status

Jun 19, 2012, 4:30 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

The timing of the current Washington, DC, revival of The Normal Heart, a period piece about the very earliest days of the AIDS epidemic in America, is no accident. The play (reviewed in the Washington Post) is set in New York City in the early 80s, at the very start of the epidemic—when the disease had no name, no effective treatment and no prevention strategy. The revival will still be playing in the nation’s capital during the International AIDS Conference, the first time the conference has been held in the United States since 1990. Conference organizers boycotted the U.S. as a meeting site because of travel restrictions for HIV-positive travelers, which were lifted in 2010.

But theatre goers who think they’re seeing a historical account of a bygone disease are dangerously mistaken. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS and one in five is unaware of their infection. HIV experts say late detection of the infection can mean that drugs may be insufficiently effective.

To help increase the numbers of Americans who get tested for HIV/AIDS, this week, Greater Than AIDS, a national public information advocacy group, released outdoor media messages, including billboards and bus and rail posters, aimed at connecting people with free and low-cost testing in their communities by promoting hotlines and web-based resources provided by CDC, state and local health departments and AIDS service organizations.

The new campaign includes the first Spanish language messages in the lead up to National HIV Testing Day on June 27. “This campaign is about helping to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV testing and connect people with services in their communities,” says Tina Hoff, Senior Vice President and Director of Health Communication and Media Partnerships at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a co-founding partner of Greater Than AIDS.

Learn more about HIV testing and prevention:

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

Andrew Rein: NewPublicHealth Q&A

Jun 18, 2012, 5:13 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Andrew Rein, MS, is the Associate Director for Policy for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the HHS designee on the National Prevention Council. NewPublicHealth spoke with him about the National Prevention Strategy Action Plan released earlier this week.

NewPublicHealth: What are the overarching goals of the National Prevention Strategy?

Andrew Rein: We not only want people to live longer, we want them to live healthier, too. And the way to get there is really to become a nation that focuses on wellness and prevention, not just sickness and disease. We want to prevent disease from happening in the first place. To do that, we work across sectors because that’s the best way to have a prevention-oriented society where people work, live, learn and play and prevention is “baked in.” So, working with non-profit, private, state, and other sectors, such as transportation, education, housing, we can really make our communities safe, our communities healthy, and focus on prevention.

NPH: What movement have you seen on prevention in the last year, and how does the Action Plan move that forward?

Andrew Rein: The Action Plan really brings the National Prevention Strategy to life. It presents federal actions that not only will make progress in their own right but also serve as examples to others who want to focus on prevention. In the last year, there’s already been some of that mobilization across the country as a result of the release of the strategy. San Diego and Chicago used the strategy when designing their prevention plans; a few state legislatures are considering legislation to create multi-sector prevention councils. So there really is support to move prevention forward in all sectors and the Action Plan tries to catapult that to the next level.

NPH: The strategy talks about the 17 agencies and offices that have a role in the National Prevention Council. What is the niche of the Department of Health and Human Services?

Andrew Rein: That’s a great question. First off, I just have to say how significant and wonderful it is that we can be asking that question. We can only ask that question because there are so many departments involved. Prevention, of course, is the core business for HHS, whether it is community prevention at the Centers for Disease Control or clinical prevention being supported by Health Resource Services Administration and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or the basic research at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration in terms of safety. There’s so much that we do. On the National Prevention Council, we know the data on health, so that we can target our activities for leading causes of death, disease and disability, and share the evidence base and examples of what works to effectively address these problems.

NPH: What are some things that might have informed the Department of Health and Human Services in the last year from engagement with the other agencies?

Andrew Rein: I think the most significant piece for me has been to learn how much is already going on and what kind of commitment and expertise there is out there to improve the health of the American people. What the National Prevention Council has been able to do is share that expertise and align our activities. One of the most significant pieces has been to bring together a community of people within the federal government who want to work on these activities, have the charge of their leadership to move forward and just have been waiting for ways to do this in a more effective manner.

For example, the Department of Defense is very focused on prevention in terms of physical activity, obesity and tobacco control as just a few examples.

NPH: What are some of the critical prevention goals that all departments are focusing on? Some examples from the 2012 report were access to healthy foods and tobacco free environments.

Andrew Rein: There are over 200 council actions aligned with the strategic directives and priorities and much more is going on. The National Prevention Council came together and selected three common areas of commitment. One is to increase tobacco-free environments in their own facilities and voluntarily with their partners as appropriate. We know that tobacco still kills 440,000 people a year. So that’s a great shared commitment. We know tobacco-free environments work and help reduce tobacco-related illness and death. The council members also committed to increase access to healthy and affordable food in their own facilities and with their partners voluntarily as appropriate.

And third, they are continuing to consider additional opportunities for prevention and health within each department, and that means training their own staff, whether those staff are transportation planners or people in housing, for example, and saying well, how does prevention and health relate to the work I do?

So these three areas are ones that all 17 National Prevention Council departments have come together and committed to moving those forward, committed to assessing their current environment, making a plan for improvement, committing to leadership, communication on what that plan will be and the importance of these issues, and then moving forward in future years.

NPH: For many initiatives, many people might be surprised that departments other than HHS would be involved such as the Housing and Urban Development on Housing and Health. Are you seeing more examples of actions other sectors are taking to advance prevention?

Andrew Rein: We’ve seen many more examples of activity across sectors. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is a great example. Its work on smoke-free housing is wonderful. It has a great voluntary approach that’s had real impact. There are now 230 public housing authorities that have voluntarily adopted such policies for some or all of their buildings. And the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration are working on transforming their food environments, increasing access to healthy foods, sharing the information. The VA is even developing teaching kitchens for veterans in an effort to support healthy eating.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has a very prevention-oriented approach along with traditional interdiction measures, supporting measures such as screening, brief intervention, referral and treatment to curtail alcohol abuse.

It has really been amazing to see fantastic examples across the 17 departments, and these are just some of the examples where all sectors are coming together. But we also see at the community level, people understanding that their health is not just in the doctor’s office; it’s when they walk outside and is it easy and safe to play? Do they have access to healthy foods? Are they focusing on prevention rather than treatment both in their clinical systems and in their communities? In their schools, how can they improve health? There is more awareness throughout communities in the country, not just in the public health community. We need to make healthy choices the easy choices, the default choices, and the National Prevention Strategy Action Plan is the way to do it, to bring everyone in.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

Pink Slips Await Too Many School Nurses

Jun 5, 2012, 6:07 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

As the school year heads to a close, fewer school nurses will be able to say “see you in the fall.” A recent article in the Wall Street Journal says that school districts across the country are slashing school nurse positions in order to make up budget shortfalls. But parents and policy-makers say the cuts impact children’s health, especially kids with chronic illnesses who rely on school nurses for care during the day. And for many underserved kids, a school nurse is often the only health professional they see regularly.

Read an interview on NewPublicHealth with Carolyn Duff, RN, president of the National Association of School Nurses, and Thomas G. DeWitt, MD, FAAP, director of the Division of General and Community Pediatrics at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, about the vital role of school nurses.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

Making Room at the Development Table: A Public Health Director's Perspective

Jun 4, 2012, 4:35 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

At the International Making Cities Livable Conference held in Portland, Ore., last month, Lou K. Brewer RN, MPH, director of the Tarrant County Public Health in Fort Worth, Texas, led a session about a toolkit she and a colleague are creating to help communities track health indicators and the progress made on improving them. The toolkit should be available by the fall and is likely to be a very valuable tool for many departments starting to track indicators in their community as both a resource for key measures and an adaptable tool largely ready to use. But Brewer’s experience as part of a Texas team shaping the future of the state around smart growth, community development, land use and transportation is equally valuable as a blueprint for collaboration to bring health to the table as communities across the country look ahead in creating their development plans.

NewPublicHealth: What brought you to the Making Cities Livable conference?

Lou Brewer: The presentation was about a set of indicators that I and a planner in a neighboring region created. We researched existing health indicators and decided to create a useful toolkit for planners and health professionals, using materials that were already available.

NPH: Why is a toolkit necessary?

Lou Brewer: Well, I’ve been part of Vision North Texas classes, run by planners and the Council of Governments to look at what stakeholders—including elected officials, planners, health educators and citizens—want the area to look like in 2030. Our population is supposed to double and that brings with it lots of challenges and opportunities, and so they’ve done an extensive visioning process, including a yearly summit.

We invited ourselves to the table as a public health entity, and we really wanted to be able to also ask the questions of the impact on health of whatever decisions were made. So we developed a health research team with wide representation and one recommendation was for this health indicator set [to measure progress on health impact], and then we decided we probably needed a toolkit as well. I also have a personal interest in all this because I’m a doctoral student in urban planning and policy, and that’s because I really see an incredibly strong connection between the built environment and health.

NPH: Who else was on the team?

Lou Brewer: We had the immediate past State Health Commissioner for Texas and the current Medical Director of Blue Cross Blue Shield. We had the Assistant City Manager of one of our larger municipalities who’s also a planner and the organizer for the Vision North Texas process. We also had two hospital representatives, a CEO and a community planner, someone from the School of Nursing faculty, and from the Texas Health Institute, and, of course, members of our own public health agency.

NPH: What critical steps did you take as you researched the toolkit?

Lou Brewer: We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel if it was already out there, so we really spent a lot of time going through the literature and looking at websites, and we borrowed heavily from the San Francisco Department of Public Health. They’ve done extensive work in health impact assessments and developing indicators. We also looked at materials from the state of Michigan and the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the American Planning Association. The health research team told us to really concentrate on physical activity and access to nutritious foods, and so we reviewed the literature again to pick out indicators that supported those two objectives and so that’s what helped us come up with them.

Indicator examples include: How far do people have to walk to transit, to schools, to grocery stores? We’re looking at vehicle miles traveled. And we’re looking at the ratio of bicycle routes to vehicle routes—lots of different things that all speak to and support physical activity and access to nutritious foods.

NPH: What response did you get when you spoke about the toolkit?

Lou Brewer: I had a lot of people come up to me afterwards wanting to get a copy. It’s in the draft stage, so I told people who asked that I’d send them a copy, but really wanted them to review it and give me feedback. We’ll have a final version to release soon.

NPH: What were some of the lessons learned?

Lou Brewer: We tied our work to the annual summit and that’s a long time to wait to keep people’s attention. We could have expanded the role of the health research team earlier.

And, while we had representation from faculty, which was great, I think I would have also asked for some student involvement and perhaps they would have had some time and interest in helping us develop some of this.

I’m glad we did involve Vision North Texas, and they in turn are some of the decision-makers for the region, so I think we had support early on. I think they were very respectful of the health piece of this, and I think they were also very glad to have another layer on their argument. We were always asked to be part of any funding opportunities and to make our case there, and so that’s been really great, because there is still a group out there that the light bulb hasn’t quite gone off yet for them in terms of why is health at the table.

NPH: What’s next for the toolkit?

Our next step is going to be feedback from this conference. and feedback from a few more people in the region and we’ll either post the toolkit it to our website sometime this summer or wait for the Vision North Texas Fall Summit and introduce it at a workshop. And then we’ll ask people for feedback on usability and modifications at the summit.

>>Read more on public health at the International Making Cities Livable Conference.

Weigh In: Have you been invited, or invited yourself, to key stakeholder conversations that didn’t have health in the title?

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

Faces of Public Health: Lifeguards

Jun 1, 2012, 5:02 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

With the summer season just getting underway, among the most critical front-line public health workers in place right now, are lifeguards. The Washington Post recently wrote about the grueling but critical training young lifeguards undergo before they’re allowed to take climb to their posts at Ocean City, Md., a popular beach destination in the Washington region. One veteran lifeguard racked up seventeen rescues in a single day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a continually updated website on safe swimming in all types of water including pools, oceans and lakes. CDC also has related resources on preventing illness that can spread through recreational swimming and other water activities.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

World No Tobacco Day: Picture This

May 31, 2012, 3:30 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth


Today marks World No Tobacco Day, organized by the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The website of the World Health Organization has a database of images and graphic warnings—catalogued by disease and country—that vividly illustrate the potential health consequences of using tobacco. The site is continually updated.

Below are some examples of health effects images from several countries. Note before you click—many of the images are disturbing.

  • Impact on lungs (Brazil)
  • Oral cancer (Australia)
  • Premature death (Brazil)
  • Secondhand smoke and babies (Mauritius)

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently launched a series of video shorts about people who lives have been dramatically altered by the health effects of smoking.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.

America the Fixable: Recommended Reading

May 30, 2012, 9:51 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

"Can people easily get to work by using public transportation? Can kids walk and bike to school safely? When they get to school, do these kids have healthy food options? This shift in thinking and action is the X factor: converting personal motivation into community transformation."

Those questions and more paint a new picture of the path to a healthier nation. An essay by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey argues that instead of focusing on treating disease, we should keep people out of the doctor’s office in the first place by investing in proven, community-based prevention efforts.

As part of an online discussion series in the Atlantic about how to solve the health care crisis, Lavizzo-Mourey discusses the economic arguments for prevention and offers several examples of places in the United States where health is regularly considered in community planning and policy decisions, resulting in increased opportunities for better health. Some of the startling statistics shared in the piece include:

  • A disproportionate share of the $2.6 trillion we spend on health care each year goes toward treating the sickest people.
  • For every dollar spent on health care, less than four cents goes toward public health and prevention.
  • Spending just $10 per person per year in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent smoking could eventually save more than $16 billion a year.

>>Read Risa Lavizzo-Mourey’s essay and catch up on the Atlantic’s “America the Fixable” health care debate here.

>>Catch up on the Atlantic’s “America the Fixable” health care debate.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.