Highlights from the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting – Health & Medicine Policy Research Group

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Highlights from the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting

November 19, 2018 Written By: Health & Medicine Policy Research Group (HMPRG)

We’re pleased to share reflections and highlights from Health & Medicine staff who attended the meeting:

From Nov. 10-14th, many of our staff and board–seen here at the Activists Dinner–attended the American Public Health Association’s (APHA’s) annual meeting in San Diego.

Margie Schaps, Executive Director:

Margie with Daniel Ellsberg

I came back energized from the APHA conference this year! A couple of highlights for me include:

I was delighted to have had the privilege of hearing two talks by Daniel Elsberg, most famous for leaking the Pentagon Papers and working to stop the buildup of nuclear bombs in the U.S. and across the globe. Now almost 90 years old, Elsberg was both eloquent and inspiring in his recall of history and his calls for courageous acts now in the face of threats to health, the environment and the very underpinnings of a democratic society.

I was also inspired by a talk about addressing the opioid crisis. One speaker, the director of the state public health department in Alaska focused on issues that Health & Medicine is deeply engaged in right now, including the importance of reducing stigma around drug use by not viewing it as a criminal justice issue and a moral failing. The need to take a harm reduction and public health approach to drug addiction is the only way to adequately address this problem. The Director reported that they believe that most substance use can be attributed to childhood, collective, and community adversity. Other speakers talked about the new HR6 that just passed in the U.S. congress that authorizes grant programs and law enforcement to address the opioid crisis; however the bill is funded  and does not address prevention to any significant degree.

Dr. David Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health gave an extraordinary talk showing the parallels between the federal cuts to public health and their impact from the 1980’s to current attacks and cuts. The importance of history as lessons for the present could not have been clearer. He showed the direct link of cuts to AFDC, Medicare deductible increases, WIC funding cuts, and more to increases in the numbers of women who did not get prenatal care, the number of children who lost reduced school lunch, increases in anemia in pregnancy, increases in infant mortality in poor areas, elevated blood lead levels in children, and of course the beginning of the dramatic widening of the income gap that continues to this day. He agreed to share his powerful slides with us, so look for an announcement soon about a discussion (hopefully with him) about these issues.

And finally I want to give a shout out to Wesley Epplin and Tiffany Ford for their presentation and leadership of a discussion around the work Health & Medicine completed in 2017 looking at the impact of the ACA and state health reform on the healthcare safety net. Their work elucidated significant policy and philanthropic opportunities for local advocates and others across the U.S.

Wesley Epplin, Director of Health Equity:

APHA provides a great opportunity to both reconnect with colleagues doing work across the country and learning from presentations on work to advance health equity. In addition to this, this was the first year that I was able to attend the vote on an APHA policy resolution for ending police violence. I was well aware of these efforts, as I know several of the authors, some of whom are Chicagoans. APHA policy resolutions state positions for the association related to policy “intended solely to develop recommendations for the policy guidance of others,” which relates to supporting changes in direction of public policy.

Police violence is of obvious import to public health. Recent papers on the topic, including Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health Data and Can Be Counted from Dr. Nancy Krieger et al., and Risk factors associated with legal interventions by Dr. Alfreda Holloway-Beth on local epidemiological efforts lay out some challenges of measuring the scope of the problem. Krieger is one of the authors of the APHA policy statement that passed. Dr. Holloway-Beth was the keynote presenter at this March 2017 Health & Medicine forum on the topic, Police Violence as Public Health Data. Here’s our associated blog post from that time, which links to a prior APHA policy statement on the topic. The way that policing and incarceration plays out in our society is, among other things, racist in its actions, with the institution of policing having developed from slave patrols.

Police violence, we know, is prevalent in Chicago, with community testimony to the fact, and hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on mistreatment lawsuits over the last few years as just a couple of indicators. As we watch military equipment being used on people seeking asylum on the US border with Mexico—people being met with tear gas and a militarized border—we can see the very obvious public health implications of law enforcement violence and militarization. Every time there is a horrific killing or the more common non-lethal negative interactions at the hands of the police, we are reminded of this.

Health & Medicine is a proud endorser of the #NoCopAcademy campaign, looking to invest $95 million into communities instead of into ever more policing. APHA will publish the statement more fully, but it is worth taking a look at it on the webpage prepared by the policy statement authors here. The background is well written and supported by research (all referenced), and the action steps are powerful. My basic reflection is that I was again reminded of the great value of people connecting across the country and internationally on issues that matter across our jurisdictions and coming together to fight for justice. We also place value on naming the public health implications of sectors that are outside of health, and that is very true in this case. I spoke to a lot of people at APHA and this was only one piece of it, but it is perhaps the most memorable experience I had at this year’s conference.

Another picture from APHA: Sharon Powell, Director of Chicago AHEC at Health & Medicine, and Hana Hinkle Associate Director of the Illinois Area Health Education Center Network Program at their poster presentation.