New York Leading the Way with Paid Family Leave

By First Deputy Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, MD, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Deputy Commissioner George L. Askew, MD, FAAP, Division of Family and Child Health

Today is National Child Health Day. On this day, and every other day, we at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene are pursuing an ambitious child health agenda with the goal of advancing health equity by undoing injustice.  

For New York City’s children, inequities in social, environmental and economic conditions can determine health outcomes well before birth. Strong family relationships and community supports, however, can protect against toxic environments shaped by poverty and racism. Unfortunately, many working parents must choose between bonding with a new child and returning to work because their jobs fail to provide paid time off, making paid family leave a key policy for advancing child health equity.  

Congress Finally Funded the Zika Fight – Here’s How We Can Respond Quicker to the Next Outbreak

By Chrissie Juliano, MPP, Director of The Big Cities Health Coalition

Before Congress left town this week for the end of this year’s campaign season, they provided funds to respond to the Zika outbreak – an exercise that took them far too long.

Since Zika emerged in the U.S., and the Administration first requested funds in February, the Zika virus has infected more than 3,300 Americans in the states and almost 20,000 in the U.S. territories, and those numbers continue to rise daily. In Puerto Rico alone, an estimated 50 pregnant women are infected each day, presenting daunting odds for their unborn children. Mosquito season is winding down in some parts of the country, and exists year round in others, but regardless, experts believe the worst is yet to come, as additional cases of Zika surface and the health system begins to care for these Zika-disabled children.

In Houston, Flood Response Success is about Taking the Long View

September is National Preparedness Month, so we asked the City of Houston, a Big Cities Health Coalition member, to share the lessons learned from their 2016 "Tax Day Day Flood." How did the public health department assist Houston residents, and did they consider their job done once the streets were dry?

by Raouf R Arafat, MD,MPH, Assistant Director, Houston Health Department

From April 16-18, 2016, the Houston area experienced widespread flooding.  First responders conducted 1,200 high-water rescues; over 6,700 houses were damaged in the region; overall property damage was estimated at $5 billion. Eight residents perished when their vehicles were trapped in high water. Four months later, Houston Health Department employees are still attempting to address the needs of flood victims through long-term case management.

The View from Boston: As the World Gathers in Rio, It’s Time for All of Us to See Zika as a Global Outbreak

With the Olympics in Rio, a high-risk area for Zika infection, people around the world are thinking about taking precautions. While the games are occurring during the winter months in Brazil, when the risk of mosquito-borne diseases is lower, much of the buzz around the Zika virus has been focused on Rio, where the disease is transmitted locally because the main vector, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, is plentiful. Although the disease burden is heaviest in hotter, climates, residents of Northern cities like Boston are not immune from this virus and have a role in stopping its spread.

What Does Health Equity in Action Look Like?

Public Health – Seattle and King County (PHSKC) serves over 2 million people with a staff of 1500 employees and is the 13th most populous county in the United States. In addition to the city of Seattle, our County includes 38 other cities, international air and seaports, and a diverse population that speaks about 150 different languages. We have an annual budget of about $318 million and are the largest health department in Washington State.

Philadelphia’s Historic Win-Win for Kids: Funding Poverty Reduction Programs with a New Tax on Sweetened Beverages

By Cheryl Bettigole, MD, MPH
Director of Chronic Disease Prevention, Philadelphia Department of Public HealthOn June 16, 2016, 13 of the 17 members of Philadelphia’s City Council voted in favor of Bill No. 160176, the Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Tax. Cheers erupted from the groups that had rallied in favor of the tax: pre-K providers, city parks advocates, parents committed to better educational opportunities for their children, the public health community, and many more. And social media went wild.

Blanket Prescription: How Every Citizen in Baltimore Can Now Save a Life from Opioid Overdose

Every year, tens of thousands across our country die from a preventable illness. We have seen the number of people dying from overdose quadruple nationally and in Baltimore City, where I serve as Health Commissioner, we continue to see more people dying from overdose than from homicide. This is particularly tragic because there is a medication, naloxone, which can completely reverse the effect of an opioid overdose, and has been proven to save lives.

Reflecting on the Tragedy in Orlando Through a Public Health Lens

Only days ago, our nation experienced another mass shooting, the largest and most deadly to date. Forty-nine innocent, young people were murdered in a nightclub in Orlando, where they came together simply to hang out and dance. We as a nation experience these violent events far too often, and today, our Coalition stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, at whom this attack was directed; with the victims and their families of this latest event; and with all Americans who experience the trauma of gun violence each and every day. We stand committed to them no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or place of birth. This is a time for our nation to come together to mourn the loss, find solutions, and discourage bigotry and hatred in all its forms.

Get real about minimizing risk of future Zika and Ebola cases

The debate over how to respond to the Zika virus has produced some of the most dramatic political theater seen in Congress since the Ebola outbreak in 2014. It’s an edge-of-your seat drama, and Washington, D.C.,’s media brain trust knows it: a mysterious, life-threatening virus with tropical origins, high stakes for American families and a national leadership at war over how to deal with it.

How the Windy City is Stopping Kids from Lighting Up

By Julie Morita, M.D., Commissioner , Chicago Department of Public Health

Today is World No Tobacco Day, a day dedicated to bringing attention to the devastating health risks associated with tobacco use and to build momentum for passing effective policies to reduce tobacco use across the globe. This year’s theme is “Get ready for plain packaging” – a bold approach from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to reduce the promotional appeal of cigarette packs and communicate health information with graphic warnings.

Zika is Here. It’s Time for Congress to Catch Up to the Science

Congress left for recess last week without providing funding for the latest public health emergency, the Zika virus. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt: until recently, the Zika virus was a moving target. The science was straining to catch up with the threat, and therefore, the costs of failing to prepare and respond were more vague. We weren’t 100% sure if Zika caused microcephaly in babies. We hadn’t seen the maps showing where the mosquito vectors lived. We didn’t know it could be sexual transmitted. Now, the facts are clear. Alexandra Phelan and Lawrence O. Gostin (Georgetown University public health/law professors), writing in Health Affairs last week, got it exactly right, saying “It is one thing to fail to prepare for an emerging infectious disease if the risks are uncertain. But it is quite another to fail to act when the facts are clear.” It is time for the U.S. Congress to allocate dollars to prepare for, and respond to, what could become a major public health disaster. 

How Did Tobacco 21 Pass in Kansas City? With a Unique Coalition.

The movement to raise the age of sale of tobacco products to 21 in Kansas City is a tale of collaboration, casting, and finding the best messengers.  It’s about telling the right story at the right time. 

Tobacco 21, or “T21,” is about raising the age of sale from 18 to 21 years of age and has been around for at least ten years. From a health point of view, making the case is relatively easy.  Since 95% of smokers start by the age of 21, this policy stops a harmful addictive behavior before it even starts.  It may be more legally complicated in your community, but in most places, it can be passed with a simple ordinance. What made our effort in Kansas City different was the makeup and leadership of our Tobacco 21 campaign team, which included hundreds of members of the business community, legislative bodies, public health officials, and local youth.  The synergy of this group helped move Kansas City to pass T21.

Tuberculosis Hits Home in Las Vegas

By Joseph P. Iser, MD, DrPH, MSc

March 24 is World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, and this year, the theme is Unite to End TB. We reached out to Dr. Joseph Iser, Chief Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, which includes Las Vegas, to ask how his local health department fights the disease. We know that tuberculosis disproportionately affects communities of color and immigrant communities. We asked him to talk about how his office has successfully reached these populations in Las Vegas to fight against the spread of the disease.

In Public Health, Good Data are Essential – But Numbers Alone Don’t Always Tell the Whole Story

Welcome to the Big Cities Health Coalition's Front Lines Blog! We’re excited to launch it, and in future months, you’ll find posts from our members, the leadership of 28 of the nation’s largest, most urban health departments, and other key leaders in the field of public health. Here at the Coalition, we focus on research, policy and systems change, and advocacy. Integral to all of these is the availability of timely, accurate local data that is comparable across jurisdictions, so that we can gain insight into conditions on the ground. While there are plenty of resources for data at the state or county level, city level data is hard to come by. And that’s one of the gaps in the field that we’re seeking to fill. We recently published the Big Cities Health Inventory, where we gathered public health data from 26 member cities, and for the first time, put them in one place to allow for comparisons  on various health indicators. The inventory also offers 12 “Winnable Battles Case Studies” that highlight some of the ways cities are tackling key health battles by executing cutting-edge public health practices with large-scale impact.

Stories and Solutions

Welcome to The Big Cities Health Coalition Front Lines Blog. Here, you will find insights written by our members, the leadership of the nation's largest urban health departments. They will share first hand accounts of their work on the greatest challenges in American public health, as they fight to make their combined 51 million city residents healthier and safer. Stay tuned to hear about solutions that are working in our nation's big cities, and how these leaders are solving real public health problems every day.