27 April 2009

Who do you call about swine flu?

Well, York County, where do you go if you have a question about a possible swine flu epidemic? If you're one of the 45,000 people that live in York, you might try the City Health Bureau. The Web site doesn't have any news on swine flu. And the rest of York County, about 300,000 of you, probably doesn't even know the city has its own health bureau.

So you might turn to your county government. And the county does have a new site, Ready York, under the Office of Emergency Management, which has some really good resources. But it doesn't have anything related to swine flu, so the mechanism for providing breaking news announcements may not be, um, ready, yet.

Maybe you go to the state Department of Health. It took some poking around, but I finally found the Health Alert Network, which posted two swine flu alerts over the weekend. The news there: No confirmed cases found in Pennsylvania, yet.

No, the one local health entity that had easy-to-find news on its Web site about swine flu was Wellspan, which directed people to contact their primary care physician and to avoid visiting patients in a hospital for seven days after the start of symptoms. It also gave a link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn more.

How do other communities handle something like this? Well, in Lorain County, Ohio, where a 9-year-old boy was confirmed with a mild case, I quickly found the Web site for the Lorain County General Health District. The home page had an alert posted that gave details of the boy's case and noted that the boy's school district had notified parents and set up a phone bank to answer questions.

York County doesn't have this kind of go-to resource. It's kind of scary that a lot of people here would probably have no idea where to find answers about a potential epidemic or pandemic.

And that's one really big reason why YorkCounts supports the creation of a countywide health department.

Do you think York County is ready to handle a major public health issue quickly and effectively?

Update, 4 p.m. 4/28: Since yesterday, the state Health Department put up a large link at the top of its home page. The link goes to a wealth of information about swine flu. Also in the past 24 hours, Wellspan added an FAQ on swine flu and a link to the state Health Department site. And this reminder: For those who agree that a county health department is a good idea, the folks at the Healthy York County Coalition have an online petition to sign at http://www.wheresmycountyhealthdept.com/.

Update 2, 10:30 a.m. 4/30: The American Red Cross has a great primer on flu preparedness. Check it out here, and click on the flu checklist link.

- Dan Fink

23 April 2009

Lessons in fighting obesity

I mentioned last week the ambitious effort being undertaken by some local folks to improve health care for people with chronic diseases. And YorkCounts, through its Community Solutions committee, has made fighting obesity one of two priorities for community action (the other is improving student performance in reading and math), based on the 2009 Indicators Report. Turns out we're not the only place fighting obesity. A recent article in USA Today tells the story of Somerville, Mass., where town leaders have created a program to reduce childhood obesity and promote healthful living that could serve as model for communities around the country.

Somerville's experiment began in 2002, when researchers from Tufts University decided to find out whether efforts to promote exercise and healthful eating could help prevent obesity among schoolchildren.

The program, Shape Up Somerville, was first aimed at elementary school kids, 44% of whom were either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

With grants from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and philanthropic groups, the researchers had schools replace French fries, candy, soda and other unhealthful foods with fresh fruit, skim milk and other nutritious choices. The city added bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks to encourage people to exercise. Restaurants offered more healthful items on menus; residents planted community gardens.

After just one year, the schoolchildren first targeted showed results: They gained 15% less weight than other average kids their age. Twice as many people were riding bikes along the community's bike paths.

"It's powerful to see those numbers change like that," says Nicole Rioles, who runs the ongoing Shape Up program

The folks in Somerville are showing it can be done. If they can do it, so can we.

- Dan Fink

21 April 2009

Call to action: Gang prevention

If you thought gangs were just a city problem, think again. An upcoming forum on gangs will detail gang activity all around York County and explore strategies for preventing gangs that have worked elsewhere and what could work here. The York County Gang Prevention Initiative community forum will have two experts in gangs and gang prevention delivering keynotes. Todd Negola is a clinical/forensic psychologist with 18 years of experience working with gang populations. Errika Jones is the director of The Gang-Free Schools and Communities Initiative in Pittsburgh schools. The forum will also include a breakout session to brainstorm solutions to gang scenarios. To register, go here; there is no cost to attend. For details, contact Beth Gill-MacDonald at 717-495-7267 or bxg5@aol.com.

How much of a problem are gangs in your school district?

- Dan Fink

16 April 2009

Housing Summit: What comes next?

The Healthy York County Coalition's Housing Task Force met today, and one of the things we talked about was the York Housing Summit, held in March. The task force put together an ambitious program for the 140 people who attended the summit, and one result was a long list of actions that might be taken to improve the environment for affordable housing in York County. A subcommittee will be assembled to prioritize the action steps and to identify which agencies could potentially make them happen.

Here are the five steps that generated the most support at the summit:
  • Create a county-based homeless planning group.
  • Agree on the need for a of countywide Human Relation Commission
  • Improve efforts regarding discharge planning from jails and other public institutions
  • Agree on the need for re-entry housing for those with criminal records
  • Increase inter-agency training, coordination and cooperation.
What one or two things do you think should happen to create more affordable housing opportunities in York County?

- Dan Fink

13 April 2009

Good Gov Monthly

Found on the blog at yorkcounts.org
March 2009

In this issue:
  • Community summit draws record crowd
  • A snapshot from the Indicators Report: Obesity
  • Speaking of a healthy York
  • Group assembles for public safety study

Community summit draws record crowd

YorkCounts is involved in a lot of different community activities, but at its core, we’re trying to do two things: build a wider audience for the Indicators Report and generate more discussion about solutions to problems identified in the report. If attendance at the most recent YorkCounts summit is any indication, the audience is growing. Nearly 300 people squeezed into the Yorktowne Hotel’s Continental Ballroom March 20 to hear an update on the work of YorkCounts. They heard Bob Woods give a brief overview of the information in the 2009 Indicators Report, which is now beginning to offer trend-over-time context to some of the benchmarks. They also met some of the folks who have done a lot of great work on behalf of YorkCounts in the past 10 years. We thanked Don Gogniat and Austin Hunt for outstanding board service, and gave Bob Woods a special volunteer award for his contributions to an array of YorkCounts efforts. We also recognized officials from Spring Garden and Springettsbury townships for the work they did in merging their respective paid fire departments in 2008. It’s the kind of visionary regional thinking that YorkCounts advocates.

A snapshot from the Indicators Report: Obesity

What it says: The York County number has stayed flat, around 25 percent since 2001, which is good. But the fact one out of every four county residents is obese is alarming. And, according to data from the Healthy York County Coalition, if you include the number of overweight residents, the number of York County residents with a weight problem goes up to 67.5 percent. Those raw numbers, combined with the fact that obesity contributes to chronic health problems such as diabetes and hypertension, reinforce the need to find ways to get residents healthier: giving them new tools for exercise, proper diet and health literacy.

Speaking of a healthy York

The Healthy York County Coalition held its annual Health Assessment Community Forum April 3. Robin Rohrbaugh’s group presented lots of great data from David Polk and the Lancaster County consulting firm Holleran on how York County stacks up across a variety of health indicators. Attendees representing several county health stakeholders also heard updates from the coalition's various task forces, including the exciting stuff from Aligning Forces for Quality. That group is almost a year into work intended to improve the delivery of health care services in York County. The four-year, $1.6 million project is funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The York-Adams county area was one of only 14 communities nationwide to receive the grant. We applaud the effort.

Group assembles for public safety study

Representatives from nine York County municipalities participated in the first meeting of a public safety study workgroup. The April 1 meeting was the first step toward a study that will hopefully produce a wealth of information about the pros and cons of regionalizing police services in York and surrounding suburban townships. York County is already home to several regional police departments, each providing services to a half-dozen or so municipalities. The study will try to find out if there are other ways to consolidate services across York and its surrounding suburban townships and what the costs and cost savings might be.

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The YorkCounts E-Newsletter is written by Dan Fink. Reach YorkCounts by mail at 105 Leader Heights Road, Suite 2, York, PA 17403; by telephone at 717/650-1460; or by e-mail at yorkcounts@gmail.com. Visit YorkCounts online at yorkcounts.org.

03 April 2009

A healthy update

The Healthy York County Coalition held its annual community forum today. It was a full morning: lots of great data from David Polk and Lisa Lehman on how York County compares to the state, the nation and to comparable counties; updates from the coalition's various task forces; and a group exercise to see what participants thought should be the community's top priorties for improving public health.

- Dan Fink