A Standardized Approach is Needed to Address Social Determinants of Health

By Dr. Colleen Bridger, MPH, PhD.
Director
San Antonio Metropolitan Health District

America leads the world in medical research and medical care and for all we spend on health care, we should be the healthiest people on earth. Yet on some of the most important indicators, like how long we live, we’re not even in the top 25, behind countries like Bosnia and Jordan. There is growing recognition that health starts – long before illness – in our homes, schools and jobs. In fact, only about 20 percent of a person’s health happens in the doctor’s office – the rest happens out in the world and things like healthy air and water may not be in a person’s control.

Addressing these “social determinants of health” is not only important for fostering a healthier population, but also for reducing health disparities that are often rooted in social and economic disadvantages.

The challenge is, how do we – health departments, community organizations, doctors, clinicians, and health companies – collectively work to address these issues outside our walls and think more systemically about potential solutions?

This was the topic of conversation at a recent symposium hosted by the San Antonio Health Advisory Board that brought together nearly 140 of San Antonio’s leaders from more than 70 nonprofits, health systems, technology solutions and health benefits providers. Each with a stake in the game, we talked at length about understanding these issues, taking action in the clinical setting, and looked at what other communities are doing for best practices to set the course for San Antonio’s future.

Many groups are already asking the people they serve questions about some of the four core social determinants of health areas: 1) housing/utilities; 2) food insecurity; 3) transportation and 4) interpersonal safety. These domains are priority because of clear evidence that they are associated with a host of negative health outcomes.

What we didn’t realize is how vastly the screenings differ from one another. It turns out that screenings for things that keep us healthy in our communities, schools and workplaces are disparate, so much so that the data cannot be captured and evaluated in a meaningful way.

This poses a barrier for us to look at community health issues from a systemic perspective, as we do not have data that we can aggregate to assess a complete picture of our community’s health status and risks associated with social and environmental factors. This data is necessary to improve our ability to understand the “upstream” factors affecting our community’s health.  It could also inform the provision and funding of community resources by providing data showing the need for such services.

What we can learn from a standardized approach to addressing social determinants of health in every person in our city ranges from how to help individuals in need when we see them, to uncovering population health issues that may be solved more efficiently and effectively.

The first step to getting there is tangible and actionable. We need a standardized set of questions – one simple screening – around each of the four core social factors that hold people back from being healthy. That will help maintain strong citywide focus on social determinants of health and allow for uniform collection of data on unmet needs.

Beyond just the screening tool, the creation of a shared platform for accessing the data once collected is also essential to solving this problem. The screening tool takes care of step one, but that data needs to go somewhere, so a central tech solution is necessary to aggregate and access the information.

All Americans should have the opportunity to make the choices that allow them to live a long, healthy life regardless of their income, education or ethnic background.  We need to stop thinking of health as something we get in hospitals and doctors’ offices, but instead as something that starts in our families, in our schools and workplaces, on our playgrounds and parks, and in the air we breathe and the water we drink. Standardizing how we ask those questions will help us better understand the challenges our community faces and help us focus our work on addressing those challenges. What we can learn from a standardized approach to addressing social determinants of health in every person in our city ranges from how to help individuals in need when we see them, to uncovering population health issues that may be solved more efficiently and effectively.


Now is the Time to Tell Policymakers that Trauma Matters to Our Health

By Kelly Colopy, MPP, BCHC Chair and Director, Long Beach Health Department Director
and
Amanda Merck, MPH, Senior Research Area Specialist, Salud America!, UT Health San Antonio  

Public health professionals all over the country are leveraging practice and policy strategies to address the issue of trauma, including incorporating a “trauma-informed” point of view into the way they conduct business. In recent years, public health science and practice has become more cognizant of the evidence of, and action needed, to support those who suffer from trauma. This awareness and response is starting to transform the field.

Wrapping Up the Highs and Lows of Urban Public Health in 2018

By Chrissie Juliano, Director, Big Cities Health Coalition

As 2018 winds down, I am celebrating my four year anniversary with the Big Cities Health Coalition, which has been a leader in the urban public health field for 16 years. While our membership, staffing, location, and infrastructure have changed over the years, our mission, vision, and goals remain the same: to protect health of those who live in America’s big cities for present and future generations.

Guarding against viral misinformation this flu season

By Joseph P. Iser, MD, DrPH, MSc
Chief Health Officer
Southern Nevada Health District

As a clinician and a public health professional, I see every day how technology can help providers give patients useful information, better care, and drive better outcomes. As doctors, we use online toolkits to help treat our patients, eReferrals to provide more efficient access to smoking cessation resources, and electronic health records can make everything more accessible for both providers and patients. In my role as the Chief Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, I’ve also come to see what a valuable public health tool technology and social media can be. In our agency, we use Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube throughout the year to educate and motivate our community on public health issues from violence, to STDs, and of course, the flu. We created a new video earlier this year about the importance of the flu vaccine and have a Twitter account dedicated to information about the flu.

World AIDS Day 2018: Progress Continues, Disparities Remain

By Kim Rodgers, Communications Specialist, National Association of County and City Health Officials

World AIDS Day, observed annually on December 1, provides the opportunity to highlight our accomplishments, remember those who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS, and refocus our efforts on what still needs to be done to end the epidemic. Local health departments are in the forefront of these efforts, working on initiatives to address the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS and support work towards a cure.

Child Development-Community Policing: How One Local Health Department Joins Local Police on The Front Line in The War on ACEs

By Stacey Butler, LCSW, Child Development-Community Policing Director
and Gibbie Harris, Director
Mecklenburg County Public Health

Gunshots ring out at a Charlotte, North Carolina apartment complex, and a five-year-old girl is struck in the leg by a stray bullet. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police (CMPD) arrive on scene.  Recognizing the potential psychological trauma for the child and her family, they call the Child Development-Community Policing (CD-CP) on-call clinician. She responds within minutes, providing acute trauma intervention alongside her officer partner, who is beginning the work of helping the child and her family feel safe again. This officer-clinician team continues to visit the family over the next few days and weeks to assess progress and needs, providing targeted interventions, and helping reestablish a sense of safety both inside and outside their home.

Ten lessons we learned about how to deploy teams into post-hurricane settings

By Mitch Stripling, MPA, Assistant Commissioner, Bureau of Agency Preparedness and Response; Colin Stimmler, MA, Senior Director for Agency Preparedness and Response at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Disasters like Hurricane Michael show how severe the public health impacts from a coastal storm can be.  When disasters like this strike, many local and state health workers are often willing to help in another jurisdiction, but they aren’t quite sure how.  

New Report: Shortage of “Disease Detectives” in Local Health Departments Puts Cities at Risk

By Big Cities Health Coalition and Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists staff

Epidemiologist, noun
epidemiologist \ˌe-pə-ˌdē-mē-ˈä-lə-jist
An expert scientist who studies, detects and tracks injuries and disease in our communities.

Epidemiologists serve on the front lines of public health, protecting Americans and the global community. When health threats emerge, these “disease detectives” investigate. They identify the causes, factors and patterns associated with illness, determine who is at risk, collect evidence to recommend preventive actions, and rapidly implement control measures. Epidemiologists also respond to major health hazards including emerging threats such as Zika and Ebola, as well as natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes. They also work on chronic issues facing communities including obesity, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS and motor vehicle crashes.

Big Tobacco is marketing vapes to our kids, so our city took them on and won — it’s the FDA’s turn now

By Tomás Aragón, MD, DrPH, Health Officer and Director, Population Health Division, Derek Smith, MSW, MPH, Tobacco Free Project Director, San Francisco Department of Health

This blog originally appeared here in the Hill.

The FDA recently announced that it considers a new surge in teen e-cigarette use to be an epidemic, and will give e-cigarette manufacturers 60 days to prove that they are not marketing to kids. This is a very welcome move for those of us who have been pushing to prevent teen tobacco use. Our city recently took on the makers of e-cigarettes and won. The FDA should take San Francisco's lead and do everything it can to protect kids from Big Tobacco.

Hurricane Harvey: In the Eye of the Storm

By Big Cities Health Coalition Staff

It’s been one year since Hurricane Harvey hit Houston and the surrounding area with record-breaking rain and devastating floods which inflicted injuries, infectious diseases, chemical exposures and mental trauma on residents. Public health officials from the Houston Health Department, a member of the Big Cities Health Coalition, were on the front lines in the lead up to the hurricane and its aftermath. Today, many are reflecting on the events of those four historic days in August 2017 and what lessons were learned, and can still be learned, from the disaster.

Let schools be places for learning—not “JUULing”

By Brian A. King, PhD, MPH, Deputy Director for Research Translation, Office on Smoking and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Remember your high school bathroom? If it was anything like mine, the bathroom was a fairly foul-smelling place that you wanted to leave as quickly as possible.

But things are changing. Kids are flocking to school bathrooms across the country faster than the cafeteria on pizza day. School bathrooms have become places where students gather to socialize and use e-cigarettes—in particular, e-cigarettes shaped like USB flash drives that deliver a high level of nicotine.

Minneapolis Health Department Supports a Young Food Entrepreneur

By Dan Huff, Director of Environmental Health, and Gretchen Musicant, Commissioner of Health, Minneapolis Health Department

This blog originally appeared here on The National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) Essential Elements Blog.

Jaequan Faulkner, 13, started selling hot dogs in front of his Minneapolis home in 2016, calling his establishment “Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs.” His food stand came back this summer bigger and better than before, and it grew popular with customers in the neighborhood.

Recently, his business came to the attention of local officials when someone complained that he did not have official permits.

To make sure people are safe from food-borne illnesses, all events that serve food to the public in Minneapolis must be permitted, and violators are subject to an immediate shutdown.

Our Top Takeaways from NACCHO Annual 2018

By Big Cities Health Coalition Staff

We just returned to D.C. from the NACCHO Annual Conference, a summer pilgrimage for public health enthusiasts, which took place this year in New Orleans. The theme of this year’s conference was Unleashing the Power of Public Health. Our time in The Big Easy was especially frenetic this year, with lots and lots of sessions that we found fascinating. Below is a collection of our top takeaways from some of the most engaging sessions we participated in. Tell us which moments you thought were most important in the comment box below, or on Twitter at @BigCitiesHealth.

Public Health and Medical Community Pledge to Decrease Gun Violence

By Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County

This blog originally appeared here in the Public Health - Seattle & King County blog Public Health Insider

Firearm-related injury and death, from suicide to accidental injury and homicide – is a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death in King County and nationally. In 2016, 663 adults and 20 children died from a firearm injury in Washington state, including 144 adults and 7 children from King County.

Firearm-related injuries have very high personal and financial costs to individuals, families and society – and that’s why prevention is essential.  In 2015, the cost of firearm fatalities alone (not counting non-fatal injuries) in King County was almost $200 million from medical costs and lost productivity, and nationally the cost is in the hundreds of billions of dollars each year.


LGBTQ Pride and Public Health

By Ginger Lee, MPH, Bureau Manager, Collective Impact & Operations,
Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services

June is LGBTQ Pride month.  Pride is a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people join together to further strengthen community by celebrating joyously, with parades and other events.  Pride is also a time when the LGBTQ community remembers its history. And for public health professionals, Pride is a time to reflect on what we can do to address social conditions that negatively affect the health of LGBT people, and to strengthen conditions that support health within our LGBTQ communities.

Hepatitis Awareness Month 2018: Addressing Hepatitis A

By Meghan McGinty, PhD, MPH, MBA, Deputy Director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, and Michelle Cantu, MPH, Director of Infectious Diseases and Immunization, NACCHO

This blog originally appeared here on The National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO) Essential Elements Blog.

The month of May is designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month in the United States and May 19th is Hepatitis Testing Day. During this month, NACCHO will highlight the role of local health departments (LHDs) in responding to this silent epidemic and work to bring increased attention to viral hepatitis. Through a series of three blog posts, NACCHO will focus on the most common types of viral hepatitis, which are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. This series seeks to raise awareness of the importance of vaccination for hepatitis A and B, testing for hepatitis B and C, and the availability of effective care and treatments that, in the case of hepatitis C, result in a cure for most people. Additionally, the series will highlight current events related to viral hepatitis – such as outbreaks of hepatitis A in jurisdictions across the country and soaring rates of hepatitis B and C associated with increased injection drug use that is being fueled by the opioid epidemic – and how LHDs are on the frontlines of responding to these worrying trends.

Chicago health commissioner: Big Tobacco is targeting our youth and we must stop them

By Dr. Julie Morita, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Public Health

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced a crackdown on e-cigarette sales to minors, but before then, the city of Chicago had already taken matters into its own hands. The City Council passed an ordinance to require tobacco dealers to post warning signs at their doors about the health risks of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products. These signs, once designed and distributed, will also contain quit-line numbers to help our residents beat a nicotine addiction. 

Give Women the Gift of Good Health

By Mysheika W. Roberts, MD, MPH, Health Commissioner, Columbus Public Health

As we celebrate all the women in our lives for Mother’s Day and National Women’s Health Month, we are reminded that despite the advances women have made in many areas, great disparities still exist when it comes to their health. 

Women make the majority of health care decisions for their families and are powerful partners by advocating and modeling healthy lifestyles and behaviors for their children, colleagues and friends. But when it comes to their own health, they are often left behind.

Supporting Older Adults in Houston: Ramps, Rails and Toilets

By Deborah A. Moore, Assistant Director, Human Services Division, Houston Health Department and Scott Packard, Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer, Houston Health Department

When you think of Older Americans Month, toilets probably aren’t the first thing to come to mind. But at the Houston Health Department, commodes are a major component of one of the Harris County Area Agency on Aging’s most gratifying programs.

Allow me to take a step back to explain.

Multnomah County’s Community Powered Change

By Rachael Banks, Public Health Director, Multnomah County Health Department

After years of unacceptable disparities data, we knew we had to do something different.  In the summer of 2015, Multnomah County Health Department (MCHD), set out to create a community health improvement plan (CHIP) centered on things that are largely outside of the control of the individual. In response, MCHD released a request for proposals (RFP) for the coordination of a CHIP that was created in partnership with communities of color. Oregon Health Equity Alliance (OHEA) was selected as the contractor to lead the development and implementation process for the CHIP.

Throughout 2016 OHEA, with the support of MCHD’s Health Equity Initiative (HEI), intensive community engagement and outreach (forums and interviews) were conducted to gather input from a variety of communities including: African-American, Asian, Immigrant/Refugee, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islanders, and youth and elders of color. The outreach and engagement was followed by a tremendous amount of planning, analyzing and prioritizing areas over the next year. Through these engagement efforts, a framework was developed outlining 23 goals and over 150 strategies.