Now Viewing: Public and Community Health

How Will Technology Influence Community Health? Help Us Learn More

Sep 5, 2018, 10:00 AM, Posted by Trene Hawkins

A $2.4 million funding opportunity will examine how technology’s impact on infrastructure in the near future can improve health equity in the United States.

Street car stop in New Orleans.

Louisville, Ky., has one of the highest asthma rates in the United States. To better understand this problem, community leaders blanketed the city with air quality sensors and equipped more than 1,000 asthma sufferers with GPS-enabled inhalers. They also downloaded traffic data from Waze, pulled in local weather information, and used manually-collected data on city vegetation.

Together, this data revealed that people used their inhalers most on days with high temperatures and high air pollution, and in areas with heavy traffic and few trees. Using this information, local leaders are now taking steps to increase the tree canopy and reroute trucks in neighborhoods where asthma is most severe. They are also exploring changes to city-wide zoning policies to improve overall health.

What happened in Louisville isn’t just a story of effective community engagement or savvy data analysis. It is an example of how technology can be used to shape our communities for the good—and with major implications for health.

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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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A Successful Model That Predicts and Prevents Violence

Jun 18, 2018, 11:00 AM, Posted by George Hobor, Laura Leviton

A surgeon in Cardiff, Wales, who regularly treated victims of violence, discovered that many cases went unreported. He devised a model for collecting data and collaborating with both law enforcement and community to predict and prevent violence. This approach is now taking root here in the United States.

Cardiff image

Weekend after weekend, the wave of emergency department (ED) patients would arrive. Oral and maxillofacial surgeon Jonathan Shepard would treat shattered jaws, knife wounds and other facial injuries at the hospital in Cardiff, Wales. These injuries stemmed from brawls in bars and nightclubs where broken glasses and bottles were wielded as weapons. Strangely, Dr. Shepard found that only 23 percent of these assaults treated in the hospital were reported to law enforcement.

Harnessing the Power of Data for Violence Prevention

Determined to find a way to stem the violence, Dr. Shepard mobilized health care providers, law enforcement heads, city officials and other local leaders in working together to address what was happening within their community.

Local hospitals agreed to gather basic anonymized information from each assault victim admitted to the emergency department, including the specific location of the violent incident, time of day, and weapon involved. They removed patient identifiers and shared the anonymous data with local law enforcement officials, who combined those data with their own records.

With these data, police were able to map when and where violence might happen, and concentrate resources on hotspot locations such as specific streets, businesses, schools, or transit stations, and during particular times of the week, to help prevent incidents.

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Help Communities Prepare for, Withstand, and Recover From Disaster

Mar 7, 2018, 11:00 AM, Posted by Tracy Costigan

A $1.4 million funding opportunity is available for community leaders, organizations, and researchers to help us understand the combination of factors that lead to resilient communities.

A home destroyed by a tornado.

Nearly six months ago three catastrophic hurricanes devastated parts of the United States and her territories, and the lives of millions of people in America. Although they were all Category 4+ storms, the impact and aftermath have been markedly different. While the recovery is ongoing, many communities in Texas and Florida are finally returning to normal life: schools are open, transportation systems are running, and homes are being rebuilt. By stark contrast, in parts of Puerto Rico, people are still struggling to survive without clean water and electricity.

What accounts for these differences in recovery? There is plenty of conjecture: people point to the level of damage inflicted, soundness of infrastructure, the condition of the local economy, as well as institutionalized discrimination.

Disasters also come in many forms—natural disasters, to be sure, but also chronic poverty, broad lack of access to health care, and other hardships a community faces. When these adverse factors co-exist, recovery is exponentially harder.

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Creating a Shared Vision to Help Restore Atlantic City

Feb 20, 2018, 10:00 AM, Posted by Bob Atkins, Diane Hagerman

Atlantic City demonstrates how cross-sector coalitions built on trust are key to healthier communities. A new funding opportunity is seeking similar New Jersey coalitions that are tackling local priorities, especially in low-income communities.

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Atlantic City, New Jersey, is a colorful place with a storied past. Today, its casinos, beaches and boardwalk make it a natural tourist destination, with a transportation infrastructure that puts it within easy reach of millions of people. The many languages spoken in the city are a testament to its vibrant diversity.  

Despite its long-standing status as a tourist destination, the city has not always enjoyed a stellar reputation. Crime rates exceed national averages (although they’ve fallen over the past few years), and unemployment is nearly double the national rate. Gambling hasn’t brought much luck to a place that sits in a county ranked 17th in health outcomes among New Jersey’s 21 counties, according to 2017 County Health Rankings data.

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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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New Leaders Use Telehealth—and Teamwork—to Tackle Opioid Use

Sep 26, 2017, 9:30 AM, Posted by Kaytura Felix

A pioneering team of clinicians is tearing down barriers that prevented opioid dependent patients in a rural community from receiving treatment. Their efforts—and those of leaders like them—are helping communities across the nation have an equal opportunity to lead healthier lives.

Prescription Drug Abuse Map.

In Hagerstown, rural Maryland, tucked amongst a series of charming brick buildings is Wells House, a long-standing charity. It provides recovery services to community members battling drug and alcohol dependencies. But for some time, what Wells House didn’t have was a regular clinician to provide specific, evidence-based opioid treatment.

Wells House eventually turned to “telemedicine”—using technology to tap into a network of physicians who could provide treatment remotely. The initial idea came from Eric Weintraub, MD, director of substance abuse services at University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). The charity had sought out his help in prescribing and managing buprenorphine treatment for clients with opioid disorders. But frequent travel out to Wells House from Baltimore posed a problem for Weintraub and his colleagues. So he turned to technology.

“It was a no-brainer,” Weintraub said. “Medication-assisted treatment is the gold standard for opioid addiction, and we have learned that telemedicine is as effective in most places as face-to-face care, so why not put the two together?”

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How Lessons From Abroad Are Uplifting Youth in the United States

Aug 23, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Jennifer Ng'andu

Creative programs in Latin America are inspiring U.S. communities to pursue similar approaches that connect young adults to education and employment.

International Youth Foundation

Like many high school graduates in Brazil, Caroline was eager to find a job. She desperately needed money to continue her studies and pursue her dream of becoming an engineer. But two years after graduating, she was still unemployed. Caroline eventually managed to improve her job prospects in an unlikely way—through drawing, dance and breath work.

Intent on breaking free from a family history of women who weren’t able to get good jobs or finish high school, Caroline discovered a job training program run by Rede Cidadã (The Citizen Network). The non-profit organization connects youth to jobs and apprenticeships throughout Brazil, where the youth unemployment rate is nearly 25 percent.

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Honoring Tradition to Support Tribal Health

Aug 3, 2017, 10:00 AM, Posted by Jamie Judkins

Twenty-five years ago, the future of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe was in jeopardy. Today, they are looking at seven generations: back three generations, the present, and forward three generations. Here is how they are ‘pulling together’ for health.

Wood paneled wall with Native American portraits.

My tribe sees life within the frame of seven generations: The current generation is shaped by the experience of people three generations before and tasked with setting the course for three generations to come.

That’s why I summoned the stamina needed to paddle a canoe for eight days last summer in a tradition that binds our generations. I joined thousands of men, women, teens and children from my tribe—Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe—as well as our neighbors from the Chinook Indian Nation, to paddle together in a dugout canoe for 200 miles. It was an annual journey with deep roots in our culture and history. I learned what it really means to pull together. You get into a rhythm with your team, and you move forward.

That’s what we’re trying to do for our community’s health, too.

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How Multi-Sector Health Partnerships Evolve

Jul 10, 2017, 2:00 PM, Posted by Emmy Ganos

Strong partnerships spanning an array of sectors—including public health, housing, education, transportation and others—are the bedrocks of healthy communities. How do they evolve and what makes them successful?

Professionals talking in a meeting.

When Mercer Medical Center in Trenton, New Jersey, planned to close its doors more than 10 years ago, many in the community were alarmed by the likely impact on health services available to the city’s large, low-income population. Encouraged by Mayor Douglas Palmer and the State Department of Health, two hospitals, a federally-qualified health center, and the city health department came together to consider how best to meet the needs of Trenton residents.

At the time, many of these providers knew one another more as competitors than as collaborators. But they recognized a shared commitment to Trenton’s most vulnerable residents and set aside potential rivalries to form the Trenton Health Team. Today, that team links more than 60 behavioral, social service, educational, and faith-based organizations to pursue better community health outcomes.

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