Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Public Health and the Upcoming Heating Crisis

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the role of public health in the upcoming heating and energy crisis. Clearly, when people cannot heat their homes their health may be affected directly, such as suffering from hypothermia. Or, their health may be indirectly affected, such as by the need to take on a second job in order to pay for heating bills. And, with two papermills just this week in Maine laying off people, those second jobs and even first jobs may not even be available.

We also realize that our public health system may be stretched by the crisis. Already, WIC (Women Infants and Children Program) is seeing a record number of clients ever served in Maine, and about 14% higher than the number of clients served just over 2 years ago.

I thought it would be helpful to review some of the activities of the Maine CDC to address the upcoming winter heating crisis, and invite others to use this blog to share ideas about the current and potential role of public health at the state and local level in this crisis.

Thus far, at Maine CDC our current and planned work includes:

· We are funding and helping to develop a telephone poll that the American Lung Association of Maine is conducting to help determine geographical and population variations in heating, transportation, and carbon monoxide issues. It is hoped this survey will help policymakers and community members address specific heating and energy-related issues. Results are expected by early October. (Essential Public Health Services=EPHS #1 and 2)

· Some of our epidemiologists (Dr. Eric Tongren) and others (Dr. Andy Smith, our State Toxicologist and Dr. Andy Pelletier, a medical epidemiologist) are designing and implementing a system to track health issues such as carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses through this upcoming winter. We hope these data will help us monitor the direct health effects of the crisis, and help us to modify our interventions to improve effectiveness. (EPHS # 1 and 2)

· We are developing public education materials, including written speaking points and radio/tv PSAs, regarding preventing the health-related issues of carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia, and asthma and other respiratory illnesses. These materials are being and will be shared with media outlets as well as public health, health care, and social services professionals. (EPHS # 3)

· Some of our district staff, such as our public health nurses, are participating on regional community collaboratives that have been convened mostly by United Way agencies, to address the heating crisis in their area. (EPHS # 4 and 7)

· Maine CDC is conducting a survey of its own staff and has met with energy experts to implement changes in the way it conducts business in order to save energy costs for the agency as well as for our employees. Examples include: turning many of our lights off during office hours and putting the rest of them on a timer, working on flex time alternatives, and increasingly offering meetings with teleconferencing capabilities. (EPHS #5)

What other ideas are there at the state or local level? Thank you! Dora

Governor's Stay Safe and Warm Website

Governor's Energy Website with Energy Task Force Report and Short Term Strategies

Ten Essential Public Health Services:
EPHS #1 Monitor health status to identify community health problems.

EPHS #2 Diagnose and investigate health problems and health hazards in the community.

EPHS #3 Inform, educate, and empower people about health issues.

EPHS #4 Mobilize community partnerships to identify and solve health problems.

EPHS #5 Develop policies and plans that support individual and community health efforts.

EPHS #6 Enforce laws and regulations that protect health and ensure safety.

EPHS #7 Link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of health care when otherwise unavailable.

EPHS #8 Assure a competent public health and personal health care workforce.

EPHS #9 Evaluate effectiveness, accessibility, and quality of personal and population-based health services.

EPHS #10 Research for new insights and innovative solutions to health problems.

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