public health

BALTIMORE. Public Officials of the Year: Leana Wen, Health Commissioner, Baltimore

By Mattie Quinn

Leana Wen never had her sights set on public office. She was happy working as an emergency room doctor and lecturer in medicine in Washington, D.C. And when the position of Baltimore health commissioner came open, in 2014, she was only 31 years old. But a widely respected former commissioner urged her to apply for his old job, and she decided to go for it. 

There was no way Wen could have imagined what she was about to get into. Just a couple of months after she moved into her new post in Baltimore, riots erupted in the city following the death of Freddie Gray, an unarmed black man, in police custody. Wen leveraged the unrest to start a conversation about police brutality and poverty as public health issues. “If we care about our children and their education,” she said, “we should also care about lead poisoning in their homes. If we care about public safety, we should also address mental health and substance addiction and the huge unmet need there.”

Born in Shanghai to a family of Chinese dissidents, Wen emigrated to the U.S. when she was eight and grew up in Compton, south of downtown Los Angeles. She graduated college at 18 -- summa cum laude from California State University -- and then went on to become a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, held a clinical fellowship at Harvard, and wrote a book called When Doctors Don’t Listen.

Read More.

MARICOPA COUNTY. Feds cutting Tucson teen-pregnancy prevention funds. (The Arizona Daily Star)

By Stephanie Innes

Two programs to prevent teen pregnancy in Southern Arizona are in peril due to funding cuts by the Trump administration.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will pull grant funding for its Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, created by the Obama administration in 2010. The funding affects 81 sites, including sites in Tucson and Phoenix.

Officials with Child & Family Resources, a nonprofit Tucson social-service agency, are trying to figure out how to move forward after the recent and unexpected news that, come June, the organization will lose the final two years of a $7 million, five-year federal grant to prevent teenage pregnancy.

The lost money amounts to $2.8 million for evidence-based programs that have been reaching 3,000 Southern Arizona youths per year. Evidence-based refers to programs shown to improve measurable outcomes.

HHS emailed a statement to the Star that the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program has shown “very weak evidence of a positive impact” and is proving to be a “poor use of more than $800 million in taxpayer dollars” nationwide.

Federal officials also cited a recent report that sexually transmitted diseases are at record highs as further evidence that the program was ineffective.

HHS says future decisions regarding the program will be guided by science and a “firm commitment to giving all youth the information and skills they need to improve their prospects for optimal health outcomes.”

But grant administrators in Tucson and around the country say the programs have proven effective in continuing a national trend of reduced teen pregnancies.

 

Read more.

CHICAGO. From the Notebook: City Official Appears on D.C. Panel. (Chicago Tribune)

By Katherine Skiba,

Dr. Julie Morita, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, will appear Tuesday on a panel on Capitol Hill to talk about funding for public health programs.

Morita on Monday said more federal money is needed to detect and respond to outbreaks of illnesses such as influenza, mumps, measles, whooping cough, meningitis and the Zika virus.

She worries that if insurance coverage for so-called essential health benefits is eliminated, fewer people will obtain vaccines and be screened for diseases such as breast and colon cancer. Such steps prevent disease or allow for early detection, Morita said.

A flyer for the panel discussion says just as with the nation’s roads and bridges, its public health infrastructure “remains antiquated and in need of modernization.”

Count her among opponents of a GOP effort in the Senate to dismantle Obamacare, which she said led to about 300,000 more Chicagoans obtaining health insurance. A recent study showed just over 9 percent of city residents are not insured, which she called a record low. 

The event is sponsored by the Congressional Public Health Caucus, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers including U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat.

Read more.

SAN DIEGO. California Today: A Deadly Outbreak Stalks San Diego. (The New York TImes)

By Mike McPhate

In a typical year, San Diego County might see a few dozen cases of hepatitis A.

So far this year? More than 400, with 15 people now killed by the liver disease.

“This is an outbreak like none other that we’ve ever had,” said Dr. Wilma Wooten, the region’s public health officer. Dr. Wooten said the response has been complicated by the infection’s nebulous spread.

Whereas past outbreaks have commonly been traced to a single food source, allowing the threat to be swiftly contained, this one is passing person to person. San Diego’s homeless population has been hit hardest by the virus, which stalks its victims more readily in areas of poor sanitation.

Read more

NATIONAL. Trump Administration Abruptly Cuts Funding to Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs. (NBCNEWS)

By Elizabeth Chuck

In the meantime, health commissioners from 20 large cities have written to Price, pleading for a change of heart.

"Cutting TPPP funding and shortening the project period will not only reverse historic gains made in the U.S. in reducing teen pregnancy rates, but also make it difficult to truly understand what practices are most effective in our communities across the nation," the letter, from the Big Cities Health Coalition, read.

Senate Democrats wrote a letter, too, calling the move "short-sighted." They also praised the teen pregnancy prevention program as a "pioneering example of evidence-based policymaking."

"Despite these successes, HHS has apparently elected to eliminate the final two years of TPP Program grants without cause or a rationale for the termination," they wrote.''

Read more.

NATIONAL. Trump Administration Cuts Down Funding for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs. (Christianity Daily)

by Jessica Lim

Federal funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs around the country was stripped last month by the Trump Administration. A five year-grant that was awarded to 81 organizations in the country has now been cut to three years.

Teen pregnancy rates in the United States has dropped continuously over the last two decades, going from 61.8 births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19 to 24.2 births per 1,000 teen females in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Though there is a steep decline in 2010 when the grant from the Department of Health and Human Service took effect, some argue that the grants may have influenced this trend, but are not the only reason.

“Some of that leaves you scratching your head wondering, why mess with success?” stated Bill Albert, chief innovation officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The loss of funding for these programs has pushed health commissioners that are a part of the Big Cities Health Coalition to write a letter to the Secretary of the Depart of Health and Human Services, Thomas Price, which stated that “cutting TPPP funding and shortening the project period will not only reverse historic gains made in the U.S. in reducing teen pregnancy rates, but also make it difficult to truly understand what practices are most effective in our communities across the nation.”

Read more.

SEATTLE. US Cuts Funds Aimed at Reducing Teen Births. (The Skanner)

by Melanie Sevcenko

Just two years into the federally-funded Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has announced it plans to pull the plug on funding in June of next year.

That’s two years shy of the five years of funding the program promised.

Moreover, the announcement to shorten the TPPP funds, issued by the Office of Adolescent Health on Jul. 6, came with no warning, explanation or alternative.

The lack of dollars, say Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) – a forum for the leaders of America’s largest metropolitan health departments – will severely impact evidence-based programs, services, and research for reducing teen pregnancies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four teens will become pregnant by age 20.

In protest to the funding cut, 37 Democratic senators sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, questioning why crucial funding is being yanked out of public health departments across the U.S, two years too soon.  

Days later, the BCHC sent its own letter to Price, signed by 20 health commissioners and echoing the sentiment of the senators.

The health advocates argue that the TPPP has made unprecedented progress in reducing teen pregnancies. 

Read more.

NATIONAL. Social service shortfalls hinder health, boost medical spending (USA Today)

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. — States that spend more money on social services and public health programs relative to medical care have much healthier residents than states that don’t, a study out today by a prominent public health researcher found.

The study comes as the Obama administration prepares to fund its own research to support the idea that higher social service spending can improve health and lower health care costs. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a long-awaited rule that will pave the way for more doctors and hospitals to work closely with social services providers to keep people healthier, such as with home visits or help with housing.

Health care and social services experts in West Virginia, where jobs and access to health care can be hard to come by, cite daily reminders of how improved services can save money later. Their challenge is expanding the reach of the programs they do have. "There's always more need than resources," says Audrey Morris. director of the non-profit Starting Points of Morgan County here.

The new study is the first to compare state spending on social services — which are generally less expensive than medical costs — to spending on Medicare and Medicaidand to residents' health. Many state officials, including those here, say Medicaid claims are busting their budgets and federal officials struggle to rein in Medicare spending on drugs and medical treatments, especially for chronic disease.

Politicians from both parties say health care spending increases,  although slowing, are unsustainable, but they disagree often vehemently over how to address the problem. Yale University public health professor Elizabeth Bradley, lead author of the study,  is urging more efficient — not more — government spending.

Bradley and her co-authors found that for every dollar of Medicare and Medicaid spending for residents of the average state, an additional $3 was spent on social services and public health between 2000 and 2009, the latest available. Washington, D.C., and states including Colorado and Nevada had the highest ratios of social service and public health spending relative to medical costs - about $5 for every dollar of medical treatment — and were much healthier.

New York and Massachusetts joined traditionally poor-health states including West Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana with the lowest ratios of social services to medical spending, averaging about $2.30 on social services for every medical dollar spent. People in these states also tend to have higher rates of heart attacks, lung cancer, mental illness and obesity, the study showed.

Read more.