110: Healthy Home Improvements

Kristin Ahrens, Deputy Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Office of Developmental Programs, says the pandemic crisis ultimately will make services for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities stronger; ASTHO’s Abe Kulungara shares...

Spotify podcast player badge
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge

Kristin Ahrens, Deputy Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Office of Developmental Programs, says the pandemic crisis ultimately will make services for people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities stronger; ASTHO’s Abe Kulungara shares how states and territories have worked to improve housing conditions for people in their jurisdictions; the CDC offers a toolkit for public health professionals looking to discuss cardiovascular health during American Heart Month; and ASTHO outlines its top 10 policy issues to watch in 2022.

ASTHO: Public Health Review podcast

CDC: Healthy Homes booklet

CDC: American Heart Month Toolkits 2022

ASTHO News Release: ASTHO Unveils Top 10 Public Health State Policy Issues to Watch in 2022

ASTHO logo


This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson. 
Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. 

The pandemic has been devastating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities; but many states and territories have managed to maintain service despite COVID-19—Pennsylvania is among them. 
Kristin Ahrens is the state's deputy secretary for the Office of Developmental Programs. She says the crisis ultimately will make services for the IDD community stronger 
I'm hopeful. I think that awareness has been raised in a way that will continue. I think we were forced to use remote and telehealth at a scale that we previously hadn't been, and I do believe that those things will ultimately really support vulnerable populations like the IDD population.
Deputy Secretary Kristin Ahrens shares more about Pennsylvania's work on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in a new episode of the Public Health Review podcast, coming soon everywhere you stream audio. 

So, homes are thought of as a place of refuge, but that's unfortunately not the case for many.
Abe Kulungara manages ASTHO's environmental health portfolio. He tells us how ASTHO members have worked to improve housing conditions for people in their jurisdictions. It's today's morning conversation. 
How can public health departments find and address unhealthy housing conditions in their jurisdictions? 
Public health departments can employ multiple strategies to improve housing such as: developing and enforcing housing guidelines and codes; implementing Healthy Homes programs to improve indoor environmental quality; assessing housing conditions; advocating for healthy and affordable housing interventions to improve housing quality, such as restrictions on lead paint; and renovations of older homes have also shown to decrease certain health risks. 
Are there any programs you would consider as models in the states and territories? 
So, every state and territory certainly works on various components in the Healthy Home space, but there are some that have been innovative when it comes to Healthy Home program delivery services, especially by factoring in health inequities. These programs are not part of the government structure in some cases, but they work in tandem with the health agency and have being recognized for their excellent work by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and by state health agencies. 
And how about specific examples? 
For example, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. This is a large tribally-owned and managed health organization that provides comprehensive medical and preventive health services for Alaska natives and American Indians residing in the state. 
So, program activities include starting in the summer and early fall when pulmonologists from the Consortium and partner hospitals, they go through electronic medical records for Alaska native children between the ages of one and 12, and they look at severe and reccurring respiratory conditions. And after obtaining consent from local tribal councils, they conduct home assessments along with environmental health specialists. They also work with the doctors to visit the homes, and they conduct modifications of the home: they increase or install ventilation; they replace old, leaky woodstoves; and also, with funding from HUD, provide home modifications.
The Seattle Health Authority's another example where they have a brief easy program, which they started in 2015, mainly focusing on low-income families. Again, the health authority focuses on a wide range of measures to improve health from making significant changes to the housing construction. They use design features that protect families from dust toxins and other pollutants. 
The city of Rochester is the third example I'd like to bring up. They have adopted proactive code enforcement programs. Two programs that have had the greatest impact from city of Rochester is their renewable certificate of occupancy and the lead-based paint poisoning prevention ordinance. These programs over the years have reduced children poisoned by lead by 99% since 1994 and 85% since the adoption of the lead ordinance.
Are there any resources available to help departments do their best work in this area of public health? 
There are a wide range of programs across federal agencies working together to create a healthier home environment. 
A few examples include CDC's Healthy program, which supports health departments in conducting surveillance, provides education, coordinates services, and provides guidance for clinicians and other professionals. The Healthy Homes program at the Department of Energy is also focused on improving energy efficiency and creating healthier environments. The Healthy Homes program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also works with health agencies to create and enforce standards for Healthy Homes. Healthy Homes programs at the Department of Health and Human Services also work on combating hazards posed by unhealthy housing. And finally, you also have the Healthy Homes program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides safe and decent sanitary homes—again, fighting hazards posed by unhealthy housing. 
So, these programs work in tandem with health agencies to do their best work. 
The CDC has a guide for those thinking about starting a Healthy Homes program. There's a link to the document in the show notes. 

Also today: February is American Heart Month, a chance for everyone to focus on cardiovascular health. We'll have more on this topic in a future newscast, but we wanted to make sure you knew about a CDC webpage featuring toolkits for public health and healthcare professionals. Read more using the link in the show notes. 
Finally this morning, we resume our series of conversations about the top public health policy issues ASTHO wants you to watch in the new year. Next week, we'll talk about mental health, data modernization, and the public health workforce. 
If you want to read more about all 10 policy priorities right now, you can check out the link in the show notes. 

That'll do it for today's report. 

Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information. 
I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day. 

Abraham Kulungara MPH

Senior Director, Environmental Health, ASTHO

Kristin Ahrens

Deputy Secretary, Office of Developmental Programs, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services