Public Health is Prevention- and who doesn’t support prevention?
When it comes to Health Care reform, it seems that little can be agreed upon. However, in a side-by-side comparison of the health care reform proposals (House, Senate, and President), there is one consistency: the importance of prevention.
In this side-by-side comparison, it is clear that most of the language around prevention and wellness is exactly the same- only made more concise in the President’s version. Each bill includes preventive services and the establishment of a grant program to support research-based preventive services.
According to the Fiscal Year 2010 Fact Sheet found on the White House website, President Obama allocated $1 billion as a part of the Recovery Act for prevention and wellness programs. Why this widespread support for prevention? Because prevention is proven to save lives and money.
Accordign to the Fact Sheet:
Over a third of all illness is the result of poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking.
This means that over a third of all illness is easily preventable. Couldn’t the money currently spent on treating these preventable illnesses, go farther if it were spent on preventive services?
What is more interesting is that poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking are all issues that are addressed and prioritized by public health workers and public health departments.
In the Lehigh Valley, where more than two-thirds of the population live in areas with limited public health infrastructure, it is not surprising that we struggle with the same preventable health issues. The recent release of the County Health Rankings, offer some illuminating numbers for Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Both counties fail to meet the target rates in teen birth, binge drinking, preventable hospital stays, and certain STDs. Lehigh County has a higher adult smoking rate than the target while Northampton County has a higher adult obesity rate.
These indicators imply a need for preventive services not currently provided outside of Bethlehem and Allentown. The creation of a bi-county health department in the Lehigh Valley, will serve as a preventive services provider as well as a preventive services coordinator.
What can we do in the Lehigh Valley, to change the public image of public health from health services for the poor, to preventive services for everyone? Often, the issue of cost comes up in discussions about the bi-county public health department. How can we better incorporate the economic benefits of preventive services in discussions of public health?