A two-hour virtual discussion with group of seven women professionals Wednesday touched on a variety of public health issues from the COVID-19 pandemic, maternal mortality and support for a local health department.
Here are five takeaways:
— A Franklin & Marshall College survey found 90% of Lancaster County adults in every group polled — regardless of political affiliation, racial or income attainment — support forming a local health department. Jennifer Meyer, a government and public health professor and F&M researcher who presented the results of the public opinion poll called the support “universal" and “high levels of demand for a public health department."
— Support for a public health department was not a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and having a local authority could provide data on pressing health issues such as child lead poisoning, which can damage the brain and nervous system, lower IQs. A 2017 Princeton University and Brown University study found increased blood lead levels raised the probability of incarceration by 27% to 74%.
“If we did have a health department in Lancaster (County), the data would be more real time for us," said Harriet Okatch, professor of Biology and Public Health and one of the F&M researchers who worked on COVID-19 Impact Survey.
Okatch noted the Pennsylvania Department of Health released in January its annual lead surveillance report, for 2019.
“It's 2021," Okatch said.
— The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated and illuminated health disparities in the U.S., with communities of color accounting for a disproportional number of the deaths.
“If you didn't have a reason to act, you have one now," said Dr. Sharee Livingston, chair of the OB-GYN department at UPMC Lititz.
— The pandemic shutdown last year to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus made a lot of assumptions. The guidance that workers should work from home assumed they were employed in jobs that could be done at home. And the guidance to self-quarantine, even recommending the use of separate bathrooms, assumed the home had separate bathrooms.
“There were so many assumptions made about how to protect yourself that had no basis in reality for the people we serve," said Alisa Maria Jones, president and CEO of Union Community Care, a federally qualified health center.
— Establishing a local health department in Lancaster County would not be without its costs. A back-of-the-envelope calculation of the cost for a local health department in Chester and Allegheny counties and York City, suggests taxpayers there pay less than $10 year, Meyer said.
“There's a cost to having a health department, but there's also a large financial cost to not having a health department," said Meyer, echoing what others had said about the benefits of having real-time data.
Co-hosted by the United Way of Lancaster County and F&M, the event coincided with the last day of Women's History month.
Other panelists included Dr. Carol Phillips, a retired nurse; Kathryn Schmitz, professor of Public Health Sciences at Penn State Cancer Institute; and Alice Yoder, executive director of Community Health at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health.