When Brian Castrucci sees signs up at local retailers offering discounts to police officers and firefighters, he thinks: Why not public health too?
“How do we better brand ourselves as those who protect and serve,” asks Castrucci, chief program and strategy officer at the de Beaumont Foundation, which supports a variety of projects aimed at strengthening the nation’s public health system. “I’ve never been a victim of crime, but I still value the police. I’ve never had a fire in my home, but I still value the fire department. …I want people to value prevention. I want people to know (public health) is out there keeping them safe rather than just reacting to illness.”
Castrucci says he wants people to know that healthy communities start with public health.
“Public health is really connected to everything — it’s where you have to start,” he tells me. “Everything starts with health.”
It’s a message that Castrucci and public health workers across the country will be spreading far and wide next week during the annual observance of National Public Health Week (NPHW), which this year has a theme of “Public Health: Start Here.” For nearly two decades, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has been organizing the annual public health celebration and every year, hundreds of communities — often led by local health departments — rally around the idea of better health through prevention. Kimberly Moore, director of affiliate affairs at APHA and lead organizer for NPHW, said this year’s theme is designed to “help people see the public health system as an opportunity to ‘start here’ in transitioning from a sick care system to a well care system — to truly bring prevention to light.”
The “Start Here” theme is also intended to inspire conversations about public health’s new role in an evolving health system, Moore told me. Public health workers, she said, will be key in helping people find their way through the new public health and health care systems. According to the 2014 NPHW toolkit, this year’s annual observance comes at a critical time in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, just after the first open enrollment period ended on March 31. NPHW organizers are calling on public health workers “to remind your communities that public health professionals can help them navigate these changing times. Tell them: Start Here.”
“Looking at the current climate of our nation’s health system, it seemed very appropriate to focus on the changes,” Moore said. “A lot of pieces to the puzzle are moving.”
As is tradition, every day of NPHW has a different theme. This year’s daily themes are: Be healthy from the start (good health and healthy behaviors start at home); Don’t panic (emergency preparedness); Get out ahead (making prevention a nationwide and personal priority); Eat well (good nutrition and food safety); and Be the healthiest nation in one generation (best practices for community health — watch APHA’s very cool video on this theme.)
“Our goal was to create some universal topics that public health partners and others engaging in National Public Health Week could find their place in,” Moore said. “It’s also a great opportunity to celebrate public health and the professionals that work tirelessly behind the scenes.”
Local and national events
In Washington County, Wisc., some of the community’s youngest residents will be getting their first lessons in prevention next week.
Next Wednesday and Thursday and in honor of NPHW, public health nurses from Washington County Health Department will be visiting with pre-kindergarten classes at four different schools to present “I Can Do It!,” a program designed to encourage physical activity. During the school visits, Washington County’s public health nurses will read from children’s books and sing songs that encourage movement and dance. They’ll also bring along a wheel printed with activities such as watching TV and jumping rope. After the wheel is done spinning, the kids will have to tell the nurse whether the activity it stops on is an exercise or not.
“These kids are our future,” said Lori Loof, public health nurse at the Washington County Health Department. “Hopefully, they’ll go home and share with their parents what they did at school that day…maybe they’ll say ‘hey, I want to go for a walk instead of playing video games.’”
The school activities aren’t the only NPHW activities happening in Washington County next week. On Monday, Washington County public health workers will focus on maternal and child health with displays at two local libraries on the importance of a healthy diet before, during and after pregnancy. Tuesday is emergency preparedness day and so the health department will be promoting the state’s volunteer emergency response registries. On Thursday, the health department is partnering with local grocery stores to distribute food safety tips in people’s shopping bags. And Friday is staff appreciation day — “it’s a day to celebrate each other,” Loof told me.
“Public health touches every one of our lives every day,” she said. “We aren’t expecting people to come to us, but we’re going to go to them and share what we do on a daily basis.”
Loof and her colleagues are organizing just a small handful of the hundreds of NPHW events set for next week’s observance. Back in Washington, D.C., APHA will be organizing its own host of activities, including a Twitter chat on April 9 about this year’s NPHW theme. (Moore said this year’s chat is expected to be a big draw, noting that last year’s NPHW Twitter chat trended higher than Jay Leno.) To kick off NPHW on April 7, APHA is hosting a forum on “Creating the Healthiest Nation Through System Transformation,” which will focus on how public health professionals can partner with traditional and nontraditional partners to improve health and close health disparity gaps. It’s a particularly apt topic for the current times, said Castrucci, who will be among the forum’s featured speakers and was involved in developing the recently released public health-primary care collaborative guide known as the Practical Playbook. (Read Liz Borkowski’s coverage of the Practical Playbook here.)
“This isn’t rocket science, this is about social transformation,” Castrucci told me. “And any transformation starts with people getting together. This is going to have to be a groundswell from the community level up — we’re going to have to get fed up with being sick.”
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for more than a decade.