Two Op-Eds Related to Prevention and Public Health in the Lehigh Valley
There have been two great op-eds in the Morning Call this week.
In the first, Judith Lasker, a professor at Lehigh University, weighs in on the need for a bi-county public health department in the Lehigh Valley. Discussing the important distinction between medical care and health, Lasker articulates the importance of prevention and cites some of the main problems facing the Lehigh Valley. Referring to the County Health Rankings, Lasker explains what some of the data and rankings mean for the Lehigh Valley. Lasker does a nice job of situating prevention and public health within the broader discussion of health care reform saying:
Yes, we absolutely must address the unpardonable lack of access to care for one in six Americans and the great disparities in quality of care. But at the same time, we must focus on improving the health of our community as a whole by addressing those all-important public health priorities that can make the biggest difference at the lowest cost.
The full text of Judith Lasker’s piece can be found in the ‘Your View’ section of the Morning Call and was published on March 16th.
The other op-ed, found in this morning’s Morning Call, was written by Alice Dalla Palu, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Tobacco Free Northeast PA– one of the organizations to endorse the creation of a bi-county health department in the Lehigh Valley.
This article highlights the recent funding cuts to tobacco prevention and cessation programs and their providers here in Pennsylvania.
In 2005, the settlement agreement for tobacco prevention was reduced from $42 million to $32 million and for this fiscal year was cut almost by half to $17.7 million.
Dalla Palu goes on to explain some of the implications of these funding cuts:
The number of tobacco treatment programs serving the northeast health district’s 10-county area was decreased from 20 to 13 with subsequent loss of many jobs. Prevention education in the schools and community is all but eliminated. Reductions in available services always translate into increased state expenditures for health care costs because of continued tobacco use. In addition, there are no dollars to inform the public about services.
As Dalla Palu explains, these cuts imply that tobacco related illnesses and deaths, the number of teen smokers, and the medical care costs associated with tobacco use are likely to increase.
For all the money invested in biomedical research to find cures for cancer in past decades, most of the progress achieved in reducing cancer mortality has been the result of deaths avoided through successful tobacco control — especially efforts to motivate and assist smokers to quit.
Prevention must be the backbone of our health care system if we want it to be sustainable. As Judith Lasker said, a public health department is the most cost-effective way to increase the health of a community.
While some people argue that smoking and personal health are issues of personal responsibility, it is still necessary for people to have access to information which allows them to make responsible decisions towards healthy living.
Doesn’t it make sense, in the ideal situation, for a health care system, and the majority of its funds, to be used for the prevention of disease and illness, and the preservation of a healthy public? In this ideal, the people would take personal responsibility for their health and the system would reinforce/support their efforts. Treatment would be available but it would not be the population’s ‘crutch.’
Each of these op-eds calls for change– change towards a system focused on the long-term benefits and the cost-effectiveness of funding prevention and creating healthier communities.