Author Archives: Paul Kuehnert

Community Resilience in the Eye of a Storm

Aug 20, 2018, 1:00 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, officials from Harris County Public Health had to get creative. Here’s how they kept Houstonians healthy in the wake of the storm and what they learned in the process.

Graphic of boots.

One year ago, in August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall and then refused to leave. Hovering over Harris County, Texas—home to Houston—it dumped 1 trillion gallons of water, the equivalent of 40 million swimming pools, on the county’s 1,778 square miles. One community saw 10 inches of rain in 90 minutes. Drainage systems—all systems for that matter—failed or were disrupted in unfathomable ways. Water was as high as streetlights in some places. Potentially poisonous chemicals and dangerous bacteria surged through residential areas. People were trapped by flooded roads. Homes and lives were destroyed.

Those 10 days—from August 25 when the storm made landfall until September 4 when the sun finally returned—were some of the most challenging of Umair A. Shah’s career. Umair A. Shah, MD, MPH, is a physician, an emergency responder, and most importantly the executive director of Harris County Public Health (HCPH). HCPH is the county health department for the 3rd largest county in the nation serving 4.7 million people. He and his staff were in rapid response mode leading up to the storm, during the storm itself, and for several weeks in the recovery phase of the storm, often operating 24/7.

During a visit to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), I had the pleasure of discussing Harris County’s response with Dr. Shah. “My staff came every day to do their jobs,” he told me, “while they too wondered about their own homes or how their family members were faring. I am so amazed by their absolute dedication to the needs of our community despite it all.” Dr. Shah himself drove 2,200 miles in 10 days visiting neighborhoods that were heavily impacted from the storm.

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For a Healthier Nation, Let’s Look to Nurses!

Nov 30, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

From the time of Florence Nightingale, nurses have applied a holistic approach toward treating patients within the context of their communities. Today, this approach entails promoting and practicing population health. To do so effectively, nurses need supportive educational, policy, research, and workplace environments.

A medical professional checks a woman's blood pressure.

My passion for public health was ignited early on in my career in nursing, serving children and families in St. Louis’ Head Start program. I quickly realized that the health of the individuals for whom I cared depended on a complex mix of factors—including personal choices, the opportunities they had available to them (or not), and the resources within their communities. And my time in St. Louis set me on a career path in nursing that has shown me just how integral a role nurses can play in the health of not just their individual patients, but the broader population.

Nurses have always played a key role in improving our nation’s health and well-being. We see people—not just at different stages of their lives, but also in all of the different places our patients live—using nursing skills and expertise to care for them in many different ways.

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Is the Nation Ready for an Emergency?

Apr 25, 2016, 10:00 PM, Posted by Lori Grubstein, Paul Kuehnert

New findings aim to help local governments, public health departments and others find ways to better protect communities across the nation from the health impacts of disasters.

Paramedics load a gurney into an ambulance.

Over the last year, public health crises near and far have captured our attention. From contaminated drinking water in Michigan, Colorado and West Virginia, to concerns about the potential Zika exposure throughout much of the Southeastern states, there doesn’t seem to be a day that these public health problems aren’t in the news.

We know that where we live often determines how vulnerable we are to public health disasters. If we want everyone—regardless of what neighborhood, city, or state they live in—to have access to health and well-being, we must work together to combat threats. And we must focus our resources on those that need them most. When we work together, our communities can be resilient and ready for inevitable challenges. Safeguarding and building our health security ensures the collective health and well-being of communities across the nation.

That’s where the National Health Security Preparedness Index comes into play.

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The Best Defense is a Strong Offense: Strengthening Our Nation’s Outbreak Preparedness

Dec 22, 2014, 5:08 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

In the shadow of this year’s Ebola outbreak, the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a new report, Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases.

The report finds that while significant advances have been made in preparing for, responding to, and recovering from emergencies, gaps in preparedness remain and have been exacerbated as resources have been cut over time.

On the eve of the report’s release, I spoke with Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health to get his thoughts on today’s preparedness landscape—think, Ebola—what to do about shrinking budgets and growing infectious disease threats, and where to go from here.

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