Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America

Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health and social problems as a function of income inequality. In a newly published article, Bettina Beech, clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine and chief population health officer at UH, examines poverty and racism as factors influencing health.

“A common narrative for the relatively high prevalence of poverty among marginalized minority communities is predicated on racist notions of racial inferiority and frequent denial of the structural forms of racism and classism that have contributed to public health crises in the United States and across the globe,” Beech reports in Frontiers in Public Health. “Racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that diminishes prospects for population health improvement among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, but despite its collective wealth, the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.” The goal of population health is to achieve health equity, so that every person can reach their full potential.

Though overall wealth has risen in recent years, growth in economic and financial resources has not been equally distributed. Black families in the U.S. have about one-twentieth the wealth of their white peers on average. For every dollar of wealth in white families, the corresponding wealth in Black households is five cents.

“Wealth inequality is not a function of work ethic or work hour difference between groups. Rather, the widening gap between the affluent and the poor can be linked to unjust policies and practices that favor the wealthy,” said Beech. “The impact of this form of inequality on health has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as the economically disadvantaged were more likely to get infected with SARS CoV-2 and die.”

A Very Old Problem 

In the mid-1800’s, Dr. James McCune Smith wrote one of the earliest descriptions of racism as the cause of health inequities and ultimately health disparities in America. He explained the health of a person “was not primarily a consequence of their innate constitution, but instead reflected their intrinsic membership in groups created by a race structured society.”

Over 100 years later, the Heckler Report, the first government-sanctioned assessment of racial health disparities, was published. It noted mortality inequity was linked to six leading causes of preventable excess deaths for the Black compared to the white population (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, chemical dependency and homicide/unintentional injury).

It and other reports led to a more robust focus on population health over the last few decades that has included a renewed interest in the impact of racism and social factors, such as poverty, on clinical outcomes.

The Myth of Meritocracy

Beech contends that structural racism harms marginalized populations at the expense of affording greater resources, opportunities and other privileges to the dominant white society.

“Public discourse has been largely shaped by a narrative of meritocracy which is laced with ideals of opportunity without any consideration of the realities of racism and race-based inequities in structures and systems that have locked individuals, families and communities into poverty-stricken lives for generations,” she said. “Coupled with a lack of a national health program this condemns oppressed populations such as Black and Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and disproportionately non-English speaking immigrants and refugees to remain in poverty and suffer from suboptimal health.”

Keys to Improvement

The World Health Organization identified three keys to improving health at a global level that each reinforces the impact of socioeconomic factors: (1) improve the conditions of daily life; (2) tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and (3) develop a workforce trained in and public awareness of the social determinants of health.

The report’s findings highlight the need to implement health policies to increase access to care for lower-income individuals and highlight the need to ensure such policies and associated programs are reaching those in need.

“Health care providers can directly address many of the factors crucial for closing the health disparities gap by recognizing and trying to mitigate the race-based implicit biases many physicians carry, as well as leveraging their privilege to address the elements of institutionalized racism entrenched within the fabric of our society, starting with social injustice and human indifference,” said Beech.

Global Social Welfare Digital Summit Call for Proposals: Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Social Change

SWHELPER will host its four day annual virtual Global Social Welfare Digital Summit beginning on February 25th through February 28th, 2020. The Summit’s primary goal is to enhance practice for helping professionals by using technology to eliminate geographical borders for training, networking, and collaboration. 

Our goal is to use an interdisciplinary approach for helping professionals to provide news, information, and resources critical to global knowledge sharing,says Deona Hooper, SWHELPER Founder and Editor-in-Chief, and host of the Global Social Welfare Digital Summit. 

The virtual format transcends geographic locations and expands learning to a global classroom. Most importantly, it allows us to provide the same great content as an in person conference yet at a more affordable rate. Our four-day conference will focus on Activism, Health Care, Trauma Informed Care, Prevention and Solutions,Deona concludes.

Call for Proposals 

We are looking for speakers who are interested in giving presentations from micro to macro perspectives on topics of ethics, technology, research, policy and other related themes. All speakers are exempted from paying the participation fee and will have free access to all four days of the conference.  Additionally, each speaker will get a dedicated page where he/she can promote their work and products as well as free marketing and promotion leading up to the Summit. 

  • There are no fees for speakers. All presenters will be given a four-day pass to the live conference along with 1-year access to view all recorded presentation if they can not attend the other presentations live.
  • We will create graphics and posts for each presenter to promote on SWHELPER social media.
  • SWHELPER will publish articles recognizing all speakers chosen to present at the 2020 Summit.

The call for proposals is open, and it will end on September 15th, 2019. Visit https://on.swhelper.org/2LyU54D for more information. Global Welfare Digital Summit will work with other media outlets to arrange interviews for speakers who want to discuss their work and presentations for the Summit. 

About SWHELPER is a woman-owned, award-winning, mission-driven, and progressive news website dedicated to providing information, resources, and entertainment for the social good. Our audience is comprised of academics, policymakers, social workers, students, mental health practitioners, helping professionals, caregivers, and people looking for information to help themselves or a loved one in crisis. Visit us at www.swhelper.org

Professor Charts Digital Plan to Fight Domestic Violence

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — 31 days of reflection brought about by years of suffering, survivorship and study that experts say still needs far more attention. Although domestic violence cases involving celebrities, politicians and professional athletes will occasionally trigger calls for action on social media and other platforms, the faces of many lesser-known cases continue to suffer in silence.

Jill Theresa Messing, an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University, is working to address that silence. Reversing the negative use of technology in intimate partner violence, Messing is working to create a safe space for victims in the technology space of digital applications. She is part of a team that is developing myPlan, a new app designed to help college-age women spot the signs of an abusive relationship — and find their way out.

Highlighting the resulting impact of domestic violence on our communities, Messing recently discussed the efforts and research in play to stem the problem long described as the “quiet epidemic.”

Question: In recent years we have seen increased reports about domestic violence as a public health threat. How do we define domestic violence, and what are some examples of its impact on public health?

ASU: “Domestic violence” is the term generally used by the public and practice communities to refer to violence within intimate partnerships (e.g., people who are dating, in a relationship or have a child together). Violence is generally understood to be physical (e.g., pushing, slapping, hitting) or sexual (e.g., forcing a partner into sexual activity with violence or threats).

Professor Jill Messing

Other abusive actions such aname-callingng, put-downs, harassment, stalking, control, jealousy, financial abuse, threats and other behaviors are also considered domestic violence. In the research literature, this form of violence or abuse is often termed gender-based violence or intimate-partner violence.

Intimate-partner violence disproportionately affects women and can lead to physical- and mental-health consequences. In addition to injury that results from violence, intimate-partner violence leads to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance misuse and other negative outcomes. In the most extreme cases, intimate-partner violence escalates to homicide.

Knowing what a healthy relationship looks like is just as important as being able to recognize red flags for abuse. Healthy relationships include mutual respect, safety, open and honest communication, compromise, equality, independence, freedom, support and privacy. Everyone deserves to be in a healthy and safe relationship.

Q: Despite an increase in education and resources for domestic violence, there still seems to be a reluctance on the part of others to get involved or reach out to those who they suspect of being abused. What is the most important thing a person can do if they suspect abuse?

ASU: Friends are often the first to know about abuse. The most important thing that someone can do if they suspect that a friend is being abused is to talk to their friend in a kind, non-judgmental manner. Many people who are being abused would like to talk about it but are scared. Listening to your friend, being supportive, and not telling her/him what to do can be very effective. Ask your friend what you can do to help.

Starting in 2018, ASU’s School of Social Work will also begin offering new degree programs to better educate and equip students with the tools they need to spot and stop domestic violence. Coursework will include focus on technology-based abuse, intimate-partner violence risk assessment, teen dating violence, violence against women in the global context, and the domestic violence social movement. The courses will be offered as part of undergraduate and graduate certificates in domestic violence.

Q: We have heard some of the ways technology has enabled domestic violence (harassment, stalking, etc.), but how is it also playing a role in addressing the issue?

ASU: Technology is an important tool for education and can connect people to helpful community-based resources. I have partnered with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University to develop the myPlan app. Because women are more likely than men to be abused, to suffer injuries due to violence and to be killed by intimate partners, myPlan is for female-identifying students who are in a relationship with a male or female partner.

The app provides the user with a private, safe and non-judgmental space to consider their values and to weigh the risks and benefits of their relationship. It’s tailored to each person’s unique situation and provides a safety plan as well as free and often confidential resources. MyPlan is available for iPhone and Android devices and is completely free. There is also a version for friends. If you think a friend is being abused, myPlan can provide help and advice specific to your friend’s situation. Visit myPlanApp.org to learn more.

Unfortunately, technology is often used to abuse, harass or stalk someone in an abusive relationship, and technology safety is an important aspect of staying safe. The National Network to End Domestic Violence has information about staying safe online. There are also confidential and even anonymous resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Love is Respect that can help.

Q: What is new research telling us about domestic violence?

ASU: Much of my research focuses on the development and use of risk-assessment instruments that provide information about the danger that an abuser poses for a domestic violence victim. Risk assessments can be used for women to assess their own danger or a friend’s danger, or they can be used by practitioners who work with victims or offenders for safety planning. The criminal justice system is increasingly using risk assessments to make determinations about whether a domestic violence offender should be released on bond or the conditions of that release. Some of my current research is developing culturally competent adaptations of a risk assessment for immigrant, refugee and Native American victims of intimate-partner violence.

At ASU, we are also learning from students who are placed in domestic violence agencies across Arizona through our AmeriCorps internship program. Since 2015, 149 AmeriCorps members from various disciplines have volunteered more than 72,000 hours serving vulnerable survivors of domestic violence and their families. The students are getting an opportunity to learn more about domestic violence through hands-on experience while earning a stipend and education credit that they can put toward future tuition or student loans. Members have already earned more than $409,000 in scholarships and educational awards through the AmeriCorps program.

Are Your Tweets Feeling Well?

Twitter analytic data chart

In the future, public health workers could monitor trends on social media to quickly identify a rise of influenza, depression or other health issues in a specific area, thanks to research at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratorya (PNNL).

Public health trends on social media are more nuanced than looking for spikes of “I feel sick” or “flu.” To truly tap this source of public data, researchers at PNNL sought to understand patterns of how people behave differently on social media when they are sick. The researchers uncovered the expression of opinion and emotion as a potential signal on Twitter, as reported in the journal EPJ Data Sciencea.

“Opinions and emotions are present in every tweet, regardless of whether the user is talking about their health,” said Svitlana Volkova, a data scientist at PNNL and lead author of the study. “Like a digital heartbeat, we’re finding how changes in this behavior relate to health trends in a community.”

From millions of anonymous tweets, a digital heartbeat

At a time when corporations mine information from social media accounts for targeted advertising and financial gain, researchers at PNNL asked how they could use this data to benefit the public. One of those areas is public health. It takes health workers weeks to discover influenza trends the traditional way: by monitoring how many sick people visit clinics. By discovering trends in real time, social media could be the game-changing solution public health workers have been looking for.

But can tweets replace a health exam for detecting a rise in the flu or other health threats? Volkova’s research suggests so. The research team studied 171 million tweets from users associated with the U.S. military to determine if the opinions and emotions they express reflect visits to the doctor for influenza-like illnesses. They compared military and civilian users from 25 U.S. and 6 international locations to see if this pattern varies based on location or military affiliation.

For privacy, the tweets used in this study were anonymized. The goal of the research is to discover generalized public health trends, not diagnose the health status of individual users.
Overall, they found how people behave significantly varies by location and group. For example, tweets from military populations tend to contain more negative and less positive opinions, as well as increased emotions of sadness, fear, disgust and anger. This trend is true regardless of health.

The baseline is fuzzy, and that should be no surprise. People behave differently based on the world immediately around them. To that end, the researchers identified location-dependent patterns of opinion and emotion that correlate with medical visits for influenza-like illnesses. And a general trend did appear: Neutral opinions and sadness were expressed most during high influenza-like illness periods. During low illness periods, positive opinion, anger and surprise were expressed more.

Next, the research team will study whether these behaviors can be used to predict a change in health trends before they happen. If this method works in real time, public health workers could look into the future by asking “How are your tweets feeling?”

Older Adults with HIV: An Overlooked Population?

When it comes to HIV prevention and treatment, there is a growing population that is being overlooked — older adults — and implicit ageism is partially responsible for this neglect, according to a presentation at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

“The lack of perceived HIV risk in late adulthood among older people themselves, as well as providers and society in general, inhibits investment in education, testing and programmatic responses to address HIV in an aging population,” said presenter Mark Brennan-Ing, PhD, director for research and evaluation at ACRIA, a non-profit HIV/AIDS research organization in New York City. “Ageism perpetuates the invisibility of older adults, which renders current medical and social service systems unprepared to respond to the needs of people aging with HIV infection.”

There is an enduring misconception that HIV is a disease of the young, and in particular young gay and bisexual men, according to Brennan-Ing, but it is estimated that in developed countries with well-developed health care systems, almost half of all people living with HIV are 50 or older. In some countries, that number is expected to increase to 70 percent by 2020. People 50 and older account for 17 percent of new HIV infections, and are more likely than younger adults to be diagnosed with AIDS at the same time as they discover their HIV status.

Previous research has suggested as many as two-thirds of all older Americans with HIV have experienced stigma due not only to the disease, but to their age. This phenomenon may be even more pronounced among gay and bisexual men, because of an increased obsession with age and internalized ageism within the gay community.

Despite a median age of 58, older Americans with HIV are more likely to exhibit characteristics of people in their 60s, 70s or even 80s, said Brennan-Ing. The combination of stigma due to age, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, gender identity and expression, and HIV can lead to a number of negative outcomes specific to this population.

“Stigma results in social isolation, either through rejection by social network members or self-protective withdrawal, leading to loneliness and, ultimately, depression,” he said. “Stigma also makes people reluctant to disclose their HIV status, which could affect their health care treatment or prevent them taking precautions to reduce transmission.”

Older individuals who believe in the negative stereotypes associated with aging can also have poor health outcomes. Negative expectations about aging have been associated with poor cognitive test performance in older individuals and can increase stress, resulting in physical health issues, such as heart disease. More important, if an individual believes that aging leads to inevitable health problems and decline, that person may stop engaging in healthy behaviors, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“These mechanisms may be responsible for empirical findings that internalized ageism is related to both chronic disease and longevity,” he said.

While it may not be possible to reduce ageism at the societal level, there are opportunities at the community level for providers of health and human services to buffer or reduce the impact of ageism for those who are infected or at risk for HIV, he said.

Specifically, Brennan-Ing recommended:

• Training health providers in HIV screening, early diagnosis and initiation of antiretroviral therapy in older populations and integration of key services.

• Prevention, education and outreach targeting older adults.

• Treatment guidelines for older individuals with HIV.

• Funding in line with the aging of the epidemic.

• Engagement of communities, community-based organizations and social service providers in outreach, mental health and social support.

• Addressing the needs of special populations.

“With the demographic shift toward older adults in the HIV population globally, and the elusiveness of a cure, addressing the care needs of this aging population are paramount,” said Brennan-Ing. “The aging of the HIV epidemic will be very challenging, but provides the opportunity to mount a global response that will address the needs of this population across regions and settings.”

Undocumented Immigration Doesn’t Worsen Drug, Alcohol Problems in U.S., Study Indicates

Despite being saddled with many factors associated with drug and alcohol problems, undocumented immigrants are not increasing the prevalence of drug and alcohol crimes and deaths in the United States, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers led by University of Wisconsin–Madison sociology Professor Michael Light used newly developed state-level estimates of the unauthorized immigrant population to examine the relationship between undocumented immigration and drug and alcohol arrests and deaths.

Light says national debate on immigration law spurred him to begin a series of studies on undocumented immigrants and public safety and health.

“This is an area where public and political debates have far outpaced the research,” Light says. “And central to this debate is whether undocumented immigration increases drug and alcohol problems, or crime more generally. There are good theoretical reasons to think it could have increased substance abuse problems in recent decades. But the data just doesn’t show it.”

Light, who was a professor at Purdue University while he conducted the study, along with Purdue sociology Professor Brian Kelly and graduate student Ty Miller, used immigration data from the Center for Migration Studies and the Pew Research Center spanning 1990 to 2014.

They compared undocumented immigration rates to four representative measures of drug and alcohol problems: drug crimes and driving under the influence arrests collected from federal, state and municipal sources in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports; and drug overdose deaths and drunken driving fatalities counted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Underlying Cause of Death database and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

According to the study, rather than increasing substance abuse problems, a 1 percent increase in the proportion of the population that is undocumented is associated with 22 fewer drug arrests, 42 fewer drunken driving arrests and 0.64 fewer drug overdoses — all per 100,000 people. The frequency of drunken driving fatalities was unaffected by unauthorized immigration rates.

According to Light, one explanation for these findings could be what prior research often calls the “healthy immigrant thesis” or “Latino paradox.”

“When you look at things we think of as predictive of criminal behavior and poor health outcomes — low levels of education, few economic assets — immigrants tend to be engaging in less crime and staying healthier than we would expect,” Light says.

And yet, undocumented immigration is often stirred into debate of social ills like opioid use. It’s unquestionable that drugs are smuggled across the border between the United States and Mexico, Light says, but this does not mean drug smuggling and unauthorized immigration are one and the same.

“That just doesn’t appear to be the case,” he says. “If you want to fight the opioid epidemic or reduce drunk driving, deporting undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. is likely not going to be the most effective policy.”

Proposed Trump Cuts Imperil Mental Health, Health Care, Education and More

The budget proposed by President Donald J. Trump threatens critical health, scientific research and education programs that contribute to the social safety net for millions of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association.

“This budget, if enacted, would jeopardize our nation’s educational, scientific and health enterprises and limit access to critically needed mental and behavioral health services,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. “These cuts would disproportionately affect people living in poverty, people with serious mental illness and other disabilities, women, children, people living with HIV/AIDS, older adults, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community.”

“While every administration must make difficult budget decisions, any attempts to balance the federal budget should increase, not decrease, the number of Americans who have access to high-quality education, health care and social support,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “APA calls on Congress to reject this budget proposal and replace it with one that protects and increases access to services and care for all Americans.”

Among the cuts denounced by APA:

•    $7.2 billion from the National Institutes of Health, approximately a 21 percent decrease from the FY 2017 level, which would result in 1,946 fewer grants. The National Science Foundation would receive a cut of approximately $820 million compared to FY 2017, a decrease of 11 percent.

•    More than $600 billion in reductions over the next decade from the Medicaid program, which could eliminate Medicaid benefits for about 7.5 million people. The proposal also includes the option for states to choose between a per capita cap or a block grant beginning in FY 2020. Medicaid is the single largest payer for behavioral health services in the United States, accounting for over 25 percent of behavioral health spending.

•    Elimination of the Graduate Psychology Education Program, the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, and the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program, which together would reduce mental health workforce training by nearly $100 million.

•    Almost $400 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including a roughly 22 percent reduction from the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant.

•    14 percent ($9.2 billion) from the U.S. Department of Education, eliminating investments in educational equity and quality, including slashing other key programs that support gifted students, effective teaching and professional development.

•    Elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and programmatic changes that would prolong repayment periods for students with graduate school loans.

•    13.2 percent cut from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including elimination of the Community Development Block Grant.

•    $200 million reduction for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

•    Elimination of 75 employees from the Office of Justice Programs, including a cut of over 30 percent, reducing the office’s budget from $1.8 billion to $1.3 billion. The agency administers critical juvenile and criminal justice grants and houses the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Assistance and National Institute of Justice.

“A strong educational system is the foundation of a globally competitive workforce that fosters innovation, discovery and research,” Puente said. “As other countries continue to invest in education as part of their economic and workforce development strategies, the need for increased federal investment in American education has never been more important to our nation’s economic stability, national security and public health.”

“APA looks forward to working with Congress to ensure a more balanced approach to addressing our nation’s fiscal 2018 budget priorities, including making progress on increasing access to mental health care and addressing the opioid epidemic, investing in the scientific enterprise and expanding access to higher education for all Americans,” Evans added.

Danielle King: A Champion for the Disabled and LBGTQA Youth

Danielle King: Master’s Degree Student at Rutgers School of Public Health

Danielle King’s deep concern for the well-being of others was nurtured back in elementary school as she cared for a blind and deaf classmate and was more clearly defined later when she came out as gay in middle school.

“It wasn’t cool to be gay,” she says. “My peers called me names and made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t understand why someone would want to hurt me.”

The challenges she faced in her youth made King stronger and motivated her to become an advocate for others.

Today, King, a former U.S. Marine, is nearing completion of a master’s degree at Rutgers School of Public Health and also making plans to help homeless LGBTQA teens and young adults.

She volunteers as assistant chair of community outreach for Disability Allies, an East Brunswick nonprofit that pairs young adults with disabilities with mentors. King’s advocacy for challenged individuals traces back to an elementary school program that paired handicapped students with non-disabled classmates during lunch.

It became a life-changing moment when she discovered that the girl next door was both blind and deaf and could use a friend. “I started taking her to the park after school and realized that disabled people needed involvement and interaction,” she says. She sought opportunities to work with the disabled community, such as teaching children with disabilities to swim.

At 18, she enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years, including a one-year deployment to Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst. “Serving as a Marine made me more confident,” she says. “I realized I could overcome any obstacle.”

When she entered the military, she formed a group of LGBTQ women and men near her base in North Carolina. “This was during the time of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which really put me in the closet,” she says. “I found many people had similar stories about coming out to their families at a young age. That’s when it hit me that we needed a voice.”

Her service completed, she enrolled in Middlesex Community College, where she learned about careers in public health. “I started taking classes and thought, ‘Oh, this is exactly what I want to do: Get into the grassroots of the issues that plague our community,” she recalls.

In 2014, she transferred to Rutgers to finish her degree in public health and became a health activist. Volunteering with the Health Outreach, Promotion and Education (H.O.P.E.) peer education program, she taught fellow students about substance abuse and encouraged them to pledge to be designated drivers. She continues her work in improving community health by working as a HIV counselor and tester at Hyacinth AIDS Foundation.

A 2016 internship at the Monmouth County Regional Health Commission assisting the registered environmental health specialist solidified King’s interest in another form of helping others – environmental advocacy. She thrived on helping to inspect landfills and ensuring residences were up to code. “I was hooked,” she says. “I realized the importance of regulation in taking care of the earth and personal health.”

She accompanied her supervisor to the New Jersey State House and testified on behalf of a proposed bill to raise the legal smoking age to 21. “I had worked with the health specialist on progressing the bill,” she says. “One of the legislators in opposition kept asserting that young people in the military should be able to smoke if they wanted to, so I offered to testify as a veteran who supported the bill. Even though it was vetoed, I still feel passionately that the smoking age should be raised.”

Her sights are now set on joining the CDC in Atlanta, where she hopes to establish a nonprofit joint venture with her wife, Jahari Shears, fulfilling a dream to support the LGBTQA community. Shears shares King’s excitement for improving communities; she will graduate with her bachelor’s of science degree in public health from Rutgers in May.

“We want to be the adults teenagers can look up to if they don’t have that support at home. We want to provide a place for them to go and assist them with enrolling in college or finding employment,” she says. “I want to share with them what I learned as a Marine: When you feel like you’re hitting a block, say ‘I’ve got this.’ It’ll give them the energy to keep pushing.”

HHS Declares a Public Health Emergency in Puerto Rico in Response to Zika Outbreak

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La Fortaleza and Washington D.C. – At the request of Governor Alejandro García Padilla, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell today declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico, signaling that the current spread of Zika virus poses a significant threat to public health in the Commonwealth relating to pregnant women and children born to pregnant women with Zika. The declaration is a tool that provides support to the government of Puerto Rico to address the outbreak on the island and underscores the public health risk of Zika, particularly to pregnant women and women of childbearing age.

“This Administration is committed to meeting the Zika outbreak in Puerto Rico with the necessary urgency,” Secretary Burwell said. “As the first virus that can be transmitted by mosquitoes known to cause severe birth defects, we are working closely with Puerto Rican officials to pursue solutions to fight the virus in Puerto Rico with a focus on protecting pregnant women and continuing our efforts with jurisdictions throughout the United States to address this public health threat. This emergency declaration allows us to provide additional support to the Puerto Rican government and reminds us of the importance of pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and their partners taking additional steps to protect themselves and their families from Zika.”

On his end, Garcia Padilla expressed his gratitude for the support given by the Administration of President Barack Obama, and added that “the threat of Zika to future generations of Puerto Ricans is evident, and I feel a responsibility to do everything that is within my reach to make sure we fight the spread of the virus. This is why we are actively looking for alternatives to prevent the number of infections from increasing. The declaration made by HHS, which grants access to certain funds, is another example of collaboration between the federal government and the government of Puerto Rico. We will continue our campaign to guide Puerto Ricans on the steps needed to prevent becoming infected with Zika; especially to prevent the virus from affecting pregnant women. We will also continue assisting communities on the island in order to eliminate potential breeding sites and using land methods to attack adult mosquitoes. I want to reemphasize the importance that citizens have in actively participating alongside the authorities in prevention efforts against the virus.”

Through the public health emergency declaration, the government of Puerto Rico can:

  • Apply for funding to hire and train unemployed workers to assist in vector control and outreach and education efforts through the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Dislocated Worker Grant program; and
  • Request the temporary reassignment of local public health department or agency personnel who are funded through Public Health Service Act programs in Puerto Rico to assist in the Zika response.

Zika virus is known to cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects.  It has also been associated with other adverse pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious neurological problems.

According to the Puerto Rico Department of Health, as of August 12 there have been 10,690 laboratory-confirmed cases of Zika in Puerto Rico, including 1,035 pregnant women. The actual number of people infected with Zika likely is higher because most people with Zika infections have no symptoms and might not seek testing.

  • Men and women living in Puerto Rico and other areas where Zika is spreading should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites to avoid being infected with Zika virus and to prevent further spread of the virus. Zika can be passed through sex from a person who has Zika to his or her sex partners. Correct and consistent use of condoms and other barrier methods can prevent sexual spread of the virus. For more information, visit:http://www.cdc.gov/zika/transmission/sexual-transmission.html.

To prevent mosquito bites:

  • Wear Environmental Protection Agency-registered insect repellent on exposed skin, at all times
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts
  • If possible, stay in air-conditioned or screened rooms

Secretary Burwell declared the public health emergency under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act.

To learn more about preventing Zika, visit www.cdc.gov/zika.

Where are the Social Workers, and Why Are They Missing from the Global Conversation?

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Human rights, economic inequality, access to clean water, and improving educational outcomes are consistent narratives mentioned in the media on a daily basis. Where are the social workers, and why are we missing from the national conversation?

Media outlets are constantly reporting on the challenges and barriers facing teachers, nurses, and law enforcement. However, the social work community appears to be invisible. There is no doubt in my mind that Social Workers are the restorative power and profession of hope, but this power must be manifested into united action. The current structure of our profession promotes fragmentation and isolation of social workers with different focuses into smaller groups.

Social Workers are the single factor that permeates through every spectrum affecting the human condition. Social workers are in hospitals, schools, social service agencies, care facilities, prisons, and police departments. Although we may not use the title, social workers can be found holding positions in the government, private sector, nonprofits, and even in Congress.

I believe that removing barriers preventing intra-communication, collaboration, and sharing of ideas and resources within our profession is the single most important factor in solving issues facing our communities as well as uniting our profession. With the austerity cuts to public agencies, we must be even more innovative in pooling our resources and responding by not being invisible anymore.

Uniting Social Workers with different areas of focus would be the most powerful force needed to address the important issues facing society today. Our different focuses are not our weaknesses, but our strongest attributes collectively. But, we must first elevate our profession’s presence on the global stage.

We must double our public relation efforts in showing our contributions around the world and in our local communities. As social work month starts on March 1st, it’s the best opportunity for us to elevate our profession in the global conversations on poverty, inequality, and human rights.

World Social Work Day 2016

On March 15, 2016, please help @SWHelpercom make the #socialwork trend world-wide on March 15, 2016, on our most important global day of the year. I am asking everyone to tweet out your thoughts, social work resources, research, articles, or just say Hello World using the hashtag #SocialWork all day long. You can utilize Hootsuite or TweetDeck to schedule tweets throughout the day if you are extremely busy.

Social Work allies and organizations who have social workers working within them, join us on this day by tweeting out articles, resources, information, and research to share with our profession.

Children’s rights/advocacy groups and family advocacy groups, we want to hear from you too. Share your thoughts, articles, information, and/or resources social workers should be familiar with.

Let’s see if we make Twitter History on this upcoming World Social Work Day!

The Persistent Stigma of Substance Use Disorders

“Stigma is a five dollar word for a two dollar concept. It’s prejudice.”

Stigma, a set of negative stereotypes tied to behavioral health conditions, is not a new problem. Results of a recent survey suggest that views may be changing when it comes to mental illness. Advocacy efforts are getting results, and the public is beginning to recognize that mental illness is, in fact, a health condition.

We need a similar evolution to start when it comes to substance use disorders. Public perception of what it means to be addicted hasn’t shifted significantly. This is a problem.

In a study of Americans conducted by Johns Hopkins University, only 22% of people surveyed were willing to work closely with someone suffering from drug addiction, yet 62% were willing to work closely with someone suffering from mental illness.

Every person struggling to manage a substance use disorder, and every family stigmatized while supporting a loved one, are part of this broader landscape. Our current culture of stigma creates resistance to funding prevention and treatment. Belief that persons with substance use disorders are immoral, not ill, reduces support for behavioral health-centered policy.

Funding for treatment of substance use disorders isn’t commensurate with the scope of the problem. If substance use were recognized by the public as a health issue, it’s likely that prevention would be a higher priority.

We must help each other, and our communities, reshape the distorted image of substance use disorder as criminal and deviant. A person with a substance use disorder remains a person first. Examples of person-first language for substance use are included in this chart shared by Michael Botticelli, Director of Office of National Drug Control Policy. Note: Mr. Botticelli is himself a person in long-term recovery.

Language for addiction

Of course, stigma-free language is only one step and changing a stereotype takes time. We should see this as part of the process of removing structural roadblocks to health. As we break the persistent stigma that clings to substance use disorders, we’ll turn the focus instead to very real opportunities that exist for health and recovery.

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