Thursday, June 23, 2011

What brings you to town?

As the registration lines at APHA's Midyear Meeting grew longer, this blogger wondered what drove attendees to make the journey to Chicago.

Carolyn Ferrell, a public health nurse hailing from West Virginia, said she made the trip to learn more about what health reform will mean for vulnerable populations and what impact it'll have on folks who are currently uninsured.

"I'm hoping (health reform) will turn into access to care for all," she said.

Public health practitioners can bring something unique to the health reform discussion, Ferrell said. They have a "grassroots concept," she added. "They see the consumers of services as the experts."

Michael Napier, administrator of Florida's Seminole County Health Department and president of the Florida Association of County Health Officers, said health reform could mean big changes for his state. As health reform opens access to insurance coverage, it may mean a significant decrease in the amount of primary care services that the state's public health system provides. Such service changes can also come with big and worrisome funding changes for public health, said Napier, who said he traveled to Chicago to get a sense of how other states are getting prepared for the impacts of health reform.

If public health does start getting edged out of the direct services business, it'll be important for public health departments to reach out and partner with the private sector to make sure public health priorities don't fall between the cracks, Napier said. In terms of overall health, Napier predicts things will get worse before they get better.

"In the long run, nothing gets better until the economy gets better," he said.

One role for public health practitioners will be translating what health reform means in a meaningful and easy-to-understand way, said meeting attendee Tom Quade, a member of APHA's Executive Board and a local health director in Ohio. There's broad diversity among health reform's supporters — more than the media would suggest, he said.

"When folks do vote on issues, they're informed by more than just their station of choice," Quade said.

Why did you come to Chicago? What role do you believe public health workers should play in implementing health reform? Let us know in the comments section!

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