Previous month:
March 2021
Next month:
May 2021

April 2021

CDC director declares racism ‘a serious public health threat’

In a statement released earlier this month, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared racism a “serious public health threat” (Source: “CDC Director Declares Racism A 'Serious Public Health Threat',” National Public Radio, April 8).

In the statement, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that, “Racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans. As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation. Racism is not just the discrimination against one group based on the color of their skin or their race or ethnicity, but the structural barriers that impact racial and ethnic groups differently to influence where a person lives, where they work, where their children play, and where they worship and gather in community. These social determinants of health have life-long negative effects on the mental and physical health of individuals in communities of color."

The CDC also launched a new web portal, Racism and Health, that's designed to be a hub for public and scientific information and discourse on the subject.


Study finds widespread racial disparities in air quality

A new national study has found racial and ethnic disparities in the quality of air that Americans breathe (Source: “People of Color Breathe More Hazardous Air. The Sources Are Everywhere.,” New York Times, April 28).

According to the study, Black Americans are exposed to more pollution from every type of source, including industry, agriculture, all manner of vehicles, construction, residential sources and even emissions from restaurants. People of color more broadly, including Black and Hispanic people and Asian Americans, are exposed to more pollution from nearly every source.

The findings, which were published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, came as a surprise to the study’s researchers, who had not anticipated that the inequalities spanned so many types of pollution.

The study builds on a wealth of research that has shown that people of color in America live with more pollution than their white neighbors. Fine particulate matter air pollution, known as PM 2.5, is harmful to human health and is responsible for 85,000 to 200,000 excess deaths a year in the United States.


Maternal morbidity higher in majority-Black neighborhoods, study finds

People who live in majority-Black neighborhoods have a higher likelihood for maternal health complications, according to a study released earlier this month (Source: “Majority-Black Neighborhoods See Maternal Health Disparities,” Patient Engagement HIT, April 13, 2021).

The new data from Penn Medicine, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, found a 2.4% increase in maternal morbidity for every 10% increase in Black residents within a given neighborhood.

Previous data has shown that maternal morbidity, or any unexpected labor outcome with major long- or short-term consequences, have a disproportionate impact on Black women compared to white women. This health disparity exists even after controlling for factors such as education level and income, prompting many health equity experts to consider the role that structural racism and implicit bias can play in health outcomes.

“This study gives us a blueprint for addressing racial disparities in health care at the neighborhood and population-level,” said co-author Lisa Levine, MD, an assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Penn. “Investing in neighborhoods that have been historically segregated, lacked access to government services, and subjected to racism will help to improve not only severe maternal morbidity, but also a host of other health outcomes for patients.”


Medical school enrollment among Black men, Native Americans declines

A comprehensive new analysis of 40 years of medical school admissions data found the number of Black men and Native American and Alaskan Native men and women has declined (Source: “After 40 years, medical schools are admitting fewer Black male or Native American students,” Stat News, April 28).

The two are the two most underrepresented in U.S. medical schools, and their numbers are getting worse, according to a study that was published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. While Black male medical students accounted for 3.1% of the national medical student body in 1978, in 2019 they accounted for just 2.9%. Without the contribution of historically Black medical schools, just 2.4% would be Black men. The number of Native American students, both male and female, also declined, accounting for just a fraction of 1% of the nation’s roughly 22,000 medical students in 2019.

“It is absolutely dismal and appalling and quite frankly unacceptable,” said Demicha Rankin, an anesthesiologist who serves as associate dean of admissions for The Ohio State University Wexler Medical Center, where 25% of students come from underrepresented minority groups.


Public health officials concerned about sustaining resources after pandemic passes

After the pandemic is over, public health officials across the U.S. fear that they will be back to scraping together money from a patchwork of sources to provide basic services to their communities — much like after 9/11, SARS and Ebola (Source: “Public Health Experts Worry About Boom-Bust Cycle of Support,” Kaiser Health News/Associated Press, April 19).

Funding for the federal Public Health Emergency Preparedness program, which pays for emergency capabilities for state and local health departments, dropped by about half between the 2003 and 2021 fiscal years, accounting for inflation, according to Trust for America’s Health, a public health research and advocacy organization.

Spending for state public health departments dropped by 16% per capita from 2010 to 2019, and spending for local health departments fell by 18%, Kaiser Health News and the Associated Press found in a July investigation. At least 38,000 public health jobs were lost at the state and local level between the 2008 recession and 2019. Today, many public health workers are hired on a temporary or part-time basis. Some are paid so poorly they qualify for public aid. Those factors reduce departments’ ability to retain people with expertise.

The recently released HPIO Health Value Dashboard found that one reason Ohio ranks poorly for health value compared to most other states and D.C. is that Ohio’s “sparse public health workforce leads to missed opportunities for prevention.”

The report also found that “Ohioans spend a lot on downstream medical care, but investment in public health infrastructure is limited and prevention policies could be stronger.”


Wealthier counties in Ohio also have highest COVID vaccine rates

ounties in Ohio with the highest incomes also have the highest vaccination rates, according to analysis from the Columbus Dispatch (Source: “Wealthier Ohio counties more likely to have higher COVID vaccination rates,” Columbus Dispatch, April 19).

The Dispatch found a 27-percentage point difference in vaccination rates between Ohio's wealthiest and poorest counties. Delaware County, the wealthiest county in the state, is also the most vaccinated against COVID-19.

The connection does not come as a surprise to most experts who see it as a result of long-term disparities in health care.

In Ohio, vaccines were distributed to each county mostly based on population and a few risk factors. But the state didn't require Ohioans to get their shots in their counties of residence, meaning people with the time and the means could travel to get vaccinated.

People with more flexibility in their jobs tend to make more money and have good access to transportation, said HPIO President Amy Rohling McGee. That translates to more access to COVID-19 shots and health care services as a whole, she said.


Study: 4 in 10 Americans live in cities with unhealthy air

More than 40% of Americans live with unhealthy air, with certain cities and types of Americans far more prone to be affected, according to a new national study (Source: “More than 40% in U.S. live in cities with unhealthy air, study says,” United Press International, April 21).

The American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report, which was released this week, found that people of color are 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than are white people and three times more likely to live in a county with failing air-quality grades across the board.

Moreover, the report says climate change continues to worsen air pollution in much of the country. Research also shows that air pollution can make COVID-19 worse, the authors pointed out.


Feds consider adding text option to new 988 suicide hotline

Recognizing that many Americans rely on texting, U.S. regulators are weighing whether to require that phone companies allow people to text the new 988 suicide hotline (Source: “Texting option weighed for upcoming ’988′ suicide hotline,” Associated Press, April 22).

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last summer voted to require a new “988” number for people to call to reach a suicide-prevention hotline. Phone companies have until July 2022 to implement it. Once it’s in place, people will be able to dial 988 to seek help, similar to how 911 is used for emergencies. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255), which routes calls to about 170 crisis centers across the country.

Crisis counselors began responding to texts sent to the Lifeline last August, the FCC said. On Thursday, the agency voted unanimously to start a process that would also require phone companies to let people text 988. The agency noted the importance of texting for young people and those who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities.

“While a voice hotline has its benefits, traditional telephone calls are no longer native communications for many young people. Texting is where they turn first,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “So it’s time to make the suicide prevention hotline text accessible with 988.”


HPIO seeking candidates for policy analyst position

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio is seeking applicants for a full-time health policy analyst position. 

The position will be part of a collaborative team focused on providing the independent and nonpartisan analysis needed to create evidence-informed state health policy.

Information about specific responsibilities and qualifications of the position, as well as how to apply, are available by clicking here. The deadline for applications is April 30, 2021.


Drug overdose deaths up by nearly 30% in 2020, according to new CDC data

The U.S. drug overdose death toll climbed nearly 30% in 2020, according to preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Source: “US drug overdose deaths climbed during early months of pandemic: CDC data,” The Hill, April 14).

The CDC data shows that more than 87,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period that started in October 2019 and ended in September 2020 — the most recent statistics, which were published on Wednesday. 

Overall, the preliminary data found a 29% increase in overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in September 2020, when compared to the year period ending in September 2019.

The largest increases in drug overdose deaths occurred in the 12-month periods that ended in April and May 2020, months early in the pandemic when many states had some form of shutdown in place and more workers lost jobs.