New York Times journalist Danielle Ivory details the feedback she and her team received from public health professionals responding to the newspaper’s survey about their work during the pandemic; ASTHO Board Member and former Minnesota health...
New York Times journalist Danielle Ivory details the feedback she and her team received from public health professionals responding to the newspaper’s survey about their work during the pandemic; ASTHO Board Member and former Minnesota health commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger frames the conversation about transportation and health equity during the first meeting of the Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus; and ASTHO joins with the CDC Foundation and others to help up to 10 state health agency teams build stronger community partnerships to achieve an improved culture of health.
This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, October 22nd, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.
Here's today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
We end the week with part two of our conversation about a New York Times report on the state of public health departments.
On Thursday, journalist Danielle Ivory introduced us to the story and the survey that she and colleague Mike Baker published earlier in the week. Today, she dives into the details. It's the morning conversation.
With all that's been reported about the pandemic and all that you know about it from the work you've done covering it, were you surprised at all by any of the responses you received?
Yeah. Yes. The answer's yes.
Yeah, I did not expect to hear that many public health departments never really staffed up during the pandemic. I had been under the impression that most had been able to hire some temporary staff to help out. We heard that many had lost staff, so much so that they had even fewer staff than they did at the beginning of the pandemic. I was very surprised to hear from some departments that hadn't received very much funding since there had been so many announcements about federal funding over the past almost two years.
And I was expecting that there were problems with contact tracing, but I didn't expect the extent of the problems that I heard. We heard from a large amount of local health departments who said that they just never had enough staff to conduct adequate contact tracing. We heard that, because there was so much contact tracing that had to be done, that staff were pulled off of their regular duties sometimes permanently just to work on contact tracing and other coronavirus-related tasks. And so, those duties just were set aside and led to other bad consequences.
And then we actually didn't ask explicitly about threats or harassment, but we got a lot of responses detailing abuse and harassment, intimidation, and threats that public health officials had experienced—especially those who were participating in contact tracing, because that's a pretty direct way of dealing with the public.
So, that's interesting. You didn't ask about threats even though those have been widely reported. People offered that information willingly.
Is that alarming to you?
Yeah, their responses about threats in particular could very disturbing. Something that wasn't lost on me is that I—and I talked to about six dozen of the public health officials that we heard from on the phone, so we talked extensively about these issues because they had been coming up so much even though we had not asked about them in the survey.
And something that struck me is that if I asked, "Have you been getting threats?" I often got a response that was like, "Oh, no. I mean, yeah, I get like death threats every week over email, but it's not really a big deal." And when we actually dug into that and talked about what the threats were and what they entailed, they were actually very scary. They just become so commonplace that some of the officials that we're talking to just thought that—they were like, "That's just what my life is now. I just get these every day or every week."
Was there anything positive in any of the responses that sticks out for you?
Well, one thing that I was glad to hear is that most of the public health officials that we heard from said that they were not having trouble getting protective personal gear anymore; that that had been a big problem at the beginning of the pandemic and had largely been sorted out, and the supply was a lot more robust.
That said, there were a few exceptional people who said they were still having trouble getting PPE.
Do you think public health enjoys the support of most people across this country?
We did ask health departments how they would describe the level of trust with their community; and most came back to us and said that they suspected that most of the people in their community were supportive of their work, even if they didn't agree with the decisions that they were making about restrictions. But they also pointed out that there were people who felt like they needed to lash out with abuse or harassment or threats.
On Monday, we'll ask Ivory how she'd used the information in her story if she were a public health official.
Also, if you missed part one of this conversation, simply back up one episode in your Morning Edition feed—it's there, ready for listening, right now.
A good transportation system is critical to healthy communities. That was the message of those attending the first meeting of the Congressional Social Determinants of Health Caucus on Thursday.
Among panelists making the point: ASTHO board member and former Minnesota health commissioner, Dr. Ed Ehlinger.
We have to recognize that transportation is not just about moving people from one place to another, but transportation is about place-making.
Transportation, in all its forms, can either enhance or degrade a community. It can help generate pride in social cohesion and a community, or it can stigmatize and foster social isolation now and for generations to come.
Transportation is a community issue.
Finally this morning, ASTHO is part of a new effort to address health disparities. The program, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson foundation will help up to 10 state health agency teams build stronger community partnerships to achieve an improved culture of health.
The CDC Foundation, ASTHO, and MPHI, a Michigan-based nonprofit public health institute, will work together to select and support the teams.
Visit the show notes for more on this initiative and all the stories mentioned in today's report.
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Join us Monday morning for more ASTHO news and information.
I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.