Monday, December 3, 2012

Public Health in Public

Joy's Note:  A few weeks ago, I sat down to write the 'post-Sandy post' and quickly realized that I was not the right person for the job-- not when I knew a way-more-legit expert-in-training who has managed public health emergency response at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who has worked as an EMT, who is pursuing a PhD in health and public policy at Hopkins, and whose own family was dealing with post-Sandy flooding.  This post comes courtesy of Meghan McGinty, who has faced such formidable foes as Katrina, Rita, and H1N1.  Follow her musings about public health and risk communication on twitter @breukelen299:

When Joy began this blog, she intended it to be a forum to articulate, “what exactly public health is, why you should care, and what great, non-creepy things are happening while you're asleep.” In her first post, she highlights the live-saving activities of public health that often happen unbeknownst to the public. But over the past month, public health has made our lives safer and healthier in a very visible way.

On October 29th, Superstorm Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, leaving a path of destruction up and down the east coast. Though the storm has passed, there are many hazards that remain in its aftermath. Public health workers are working tirelessly to ensure that the public is safe from the hazards posed by the consequences of the storm, namely the loss of power and flooding. Some of the most urgent health concerns included: access to safe drinking water, contaminated flood waters, food safety/sanitation and carbon monoxide poisoning from running generators without proper ventilation. In case you missed it, here is a brief overview of some of the essential public health services that have made us safer and healthier after Sandy:

What has public health done?                                    
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, declared a public health emergency, which allowed Medicaid, Medicare and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) rules to be waived thereby ensuring that beneficiaries of these programs continue to receive critical healthcare services after Sandy.
  • The US Public Health Service opened seven 40,000 square-foot Federal Medical Stations, which have 250 hospital beds for evacuees requiring non-emergency medical care.
  • The New York City Department of Environmental Protection monitored public drinking water to ensure that tap water was safe to drink.
  • The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene visited numerous restaurants that lost power, were flooded, or had food contaminated to ensure that these restaurants were able to safely re-open.
  • The NYC Health Department also issued warnings about:
o   Operating portable generators safely to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning;

Delivery of these crucial public health services would not have been possible without the significant investment our Federal, state and local governments have made in developing and maintaining our public health infrastructure, as well as all the emergency preparedness planning that has been conducted for disasters like Sandy.  

What can you do?

Emergencies such as Superstorm Sandy can leave people feeling vulnerable and helpless. But there are important steps you can take to help us recover from Sandy and to protect yourself and your family from future disasters.  To help with recovery from Sandy, consider:
To protect yourself from future emergencies:
  •  Be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours; be informed, make a plan, build a kit, get ready (Joy's note: and don't eat your emergency rations unless it's an emergency!).
  •  Heed evacuation orders. When you don’t, you put not only your life in danger, but also the lives of the first responders who have to save you.
Lastly, I urge you to communicate to your elected and appointed officials that you value government investment in emergency preparedness. Unless you are ready to sanitize your own water and grow your own food, you rely on public health to keep you safe. Public health and disaster relief cannot be left to the private sector.

--Meghan McGinty, MPH, MBA, CPH

(Meghan's thanks and disclaimers:
  • I would like to express my gratitude to the many courageous first responders (including my brother-in-law), public health workers, and volunteers who have responded to and will continue to help us recover from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy.
  • The views expressed within are entirely my own and do not reflect the opinions of Joy Lee or any organization with which I have previously been or currently am affiliated.)

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