Population Health Blog

Population Health Blog

Why It Matters

Opioid Epidemic Requires Integrated Strategies that Meet Local Needs

By Juan Luis Marquez

The opioid epidemic in America has raised alarm among public health practitioners across the nation. The multiple factors driving this epidemic have been well documented in both the popular press and academic literature including: deceitful marketing by pharmaceutical companies, increased focus on pain as a 5th vital sign by hospital and physicians, and high rates of poorly managed chronic pain. Additionally, there is increasing realization of the role of social isolation and childhood trauma (ACEs) in driving opioid use. Although this week there was an announcement by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, that the death rate of opioid overdoses was finally slowing down, as noted by Secretary Azar, “We are so far from the end of the epidemic, but we are perhaps, at the end of the beginning,” meaning that there remains a significant public health burden resulting from this epidemic.

No state is immune to the opioid epidemic, but its effects are not distributed equally across the country. The Midwest, Northeast, and Appalachia are some of the hardest hit regions with opioid overdose rates up to 250% the national average (CDC). There are significant efforts at the federal, state, and county level to combat this epidemic. Some evidence based strategies that have been employed include harm reduction (Naloxone distribution, syringe distribution ), increasing access to Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), provider education, and policy changes (Good Samaritan Laws). One example of a county that is working to implement these strategies is Washtenaw County, Michigan, a state in the heart of the opioid epidemic. The Washtenaw Health Initiative, a coalition of organizations including the county health department, regional health systems, the sheriff department, and local treatment and recovery centers among others, is working to implement many of these strategies. Some strategies implemented by WHI partners include: 1) distribution of Naloxone to county law enforcement and training on how to use it; 2) naloxone distribution and training for community members; 3) syringe distribution by local organizations; and 4) improved efforts to provide treatment rather than punishment to those arrested for opioid related crimes. Most recently, an opioid summit was held to inform and engage the Washtenaw provider and resident community. Given the variability in community demographics, local resources, and local opioid use, it is critical for counties to be actively engaged in prevention and treatment efforts as there is currently no standard, “one size fits all,” approach that will work for all communities.

Juan Luis Marquez, a preventive medicine resident and Masters of Public Health student at the University of Michigan, is a 2018-19 Albert Schweitzer Fellow, Detroit chapter. His focus is on assessing the network of services for people and families with opioid addiction in Washtenaw County.

How can economic indicators be relatively good, while our sense of well-being is so poor?

By Dennis Archambault

The economy is good, though we haven’t fully recovered from the 2007-10 recession and are anxious about the impact of job losses at Ford and General Motors; home values are up; the region continues to diversify with immigrant populations; millennials are finding the region desirable; and the health care industry continues to be a major source of employment. However, our sense of “well-being” is poor, worse than comparable cities.

The Detroit Free Press https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/john-gallagher/2018/12/04/detroit-regional-chamber-state-region-report/2193863002/ and The Detroit News https://www.detroitnews.com/story/business/columnists/daniel-howes/2018/12/04/headwinds-buck-regions-upward-trajectory/2196383002/ covered the story from a business perspective, citing a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index https://www.sharecare.com/static/well-being-index. That struck me as curious – business writers citing a well-being survey — not the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation county health rankings, which would offer mixed reviews for Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb county.

The Gallup poll, known formally as “State of American Well-Being,” defines the holistic concept as “more than just physical health or economic indicators.” Well-being includes five elements: “purpose, social, financial, community, and physical.” Of seven indicators listed in the Free Press article, all were related to economic development. The inclusion of well-being didn’t seem to be relevant. Or is it?

It seems as though business writers have, in this case, inadvertently linked health – albeit defined through a “well-being” framework – with economic vitality. Of course, mentally and physically healthy people are more productive and more engaged in the communities and social networks. We should all be concerned why the well-being index is low, and lower in Metropolitan Detroit than in other areas, in a robust economic period. What is population feeling and thinking? Unlike the RWJ County Health Rankings, this is driven by perceptions of respondents, not statistical data. Overall, we don’t feel well. And that isn’t a good indicator for population health.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs at Authority Health.

The pressures of refugees navigating the health system motivate Schweitzer Fellows

By Nadeen Dakhlallah and Yusef Bazzy

The saying, “With knowledge comes power, and with power comes great responsibility,” took new meaning one cold winter afternoon volunteering for Zaman International. Amid packing and delivering food to a group of refugee clients we knocked on an apartment door on Detroit’s west side that housed five children and their mother. As the door opened it was an orchestra of deep coughing and sneezing. When we asked the mother if the young children were okay, she shared with us, in her native Arabic dialect, that the children have been sick for over two weeks and now she is starting to become ill herself. Knowing that medical services were available to her family we asked why she has not sought medical attention without hesitation. To our disbelief she responded by telling us how as a refugee she has lost trust in the medical profession and fears the American medical system due to the language and literacy barrier. Distraught by her words we asked her to elaborate and she shared an instance where she attempted to go to the emergency room for a ruptured appendix but left prior to admission, as she felt overwhelmed by the paperwork, physician questions, and lack of cultural competency.

After speaking with this mother at length we got back in the car and sat in silence. Our hearts hurt as we reflected on helpless words of this mother and the view of her innocent sick children. Although we were unaware at the time it was in this very moment that our journey to the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship began. The knowledge of this experience, both of our pursuits to become physicians, and the realization that there are thousands of additional marginalized women and children not receiving medical attention because of lack of understanding and fear of the American medical system lit a fire within us. We knew that as a brother and sister to all of mankind, let alone medical students who have taken an oath to heal humanity, we could not turn a blind eye to this situation. We felt that the knowledge of the situation and the power of our medical education have created a great responsibility for us.

As a part of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship and working with Zaman International, we have put together Passport SAHA. Passport SAHA begins with ownership of one’s health and freedom to make life choices that can prevent chronic illness. Our philosophy is designed to keep the mother stable so her children have a fighting chance to beat the social determinants of health. We believe that owning one’s health begins with self-worth. We chose a passport concept because for many immigrants, and especially refugees, it is a symbol of movement and freedom. It is coveted and often means you leave something behind to travel to something better. It is often something carried in your purse so it becomes a portable guideline for their health, especially if going to the emergency department and visiting new health clinics.

At the half way point of our project we are proud to announce that we have successfully created and vented the health passport with clients and physicians. In doing so we have completed a soft launch and worked with 25+ clients thus far. We typically begin with a brief presentation about the benefits of the passport, a short survey and then working with tutors to overcome any language barrier we filled out the passport. We have also built a short-term collaboration with the National Kidney Foundation and Michigan State University.

In the upcoming months we have many goals set up for our project. We hope to hold educational seminars regarding ways to maintain optimal mental and physical health. We believe that this next step in our mission will add another dimension of advancement and excitement. It has been a very educational experience thus far and we are looking forward to what comes next.

Nadeen Dakhallah and Yusef Bazzy are medical students at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and are 2018-19 Albert Schweitzer Fellows

Guided Storytelling in Late Life: The Road to Positive Aging

By Sarah Charbonneau

There used to be a common belief that people who reminisce are living in the past. Over the past several decades, this notion has shifted as the literature surrounding life review and reminiscence has expanded. Dr. Robert Butler, a physician, gerontologist, psychiatrist, and the first director of the National Institute on Aging coined the term “life review” and believed that it did not make people senile but instead was a way to benefit older adults as they coped with end-of-life issues.

Why does it matter?
Reviewing, reminiscing, and telling stories about the past in late life can act to empower older adults to gain a sense of hope, meaning, and value in their lives. Capturing and understanding how past experiences have influenced the path of one’s life can assist with understanding how an individual has become the person they are and where to go in the future. Family members might also find that the process of life review and storytelling can capture the history of the family to pass down from generation to generation. For example, there might be a philosophy that a family has held on to when it comes to certain values and beliefs. Making sense of these passed down philosophies, values, and beliefs can come from listening and documenting our familial elder’s oral histories.

What are the possible benefits?
There have been several documented benefits to an elder reviewing one’s life. Some are a decrease in depression and anxiety and an increase in life satisfaction. Completing life review, story-telling, and reminiscence in a group setting can also be a way to increase social networks and decrease social isolation. As groups of older adults review their lives together, they can make sense of how their experiences have been very similar or different from one another. This understanding can bring one to see that they are not alone in what they have gone through or to see how and why others have the ideas, values, and beliefs that they bring to the table.

How this is currently being done?
Life review, reminiscence, and story-telling can be conducted in several different ways. It can be done one-on-one or in groups. It can also be very structured or flexible as thoughts flow through one’s mind. As a Schweitzer fellow, I am conducting the life review process in groups to understand the most feasible way to capture the benefits of the process. I am doing this in a more structured way, distinguishing different themes and using several questions to guide these themes. So far, groups have expressed their notion of feeling more connected and closer, creating a sense of community. I have observed that several older adults participating in the life review process have visited memories that they have not thought about in a very long time. Some of these memories have seemed to help the older adults come to accept their past and notice how their past is important in shaping the person they have become today.

Sarah Charbonneau is a master’s student in the Wayne State University School of Social Work and 2018-19 Albert Schweitzer Fellow.

Rx for Racial Healing

By Dr. Gail Christopher

I define Rx Racial Healing as the individual, collective and societal process of replacing the now consciously and unconsciously embedded belief in a false taxonomy and hierarchy of human value with a heartfelt awareness, appreciation, and belief in the sacred interconnectedness of humanity. It is the process of learning that we are one expansive human family. This is a journey from factionalization to wholeness; from division and separateness to unity.

The idea of healing racism is not new. It emerged in the 20th Century. There are now centers and Institutes for the healing of racism in many states and cities across America. What distinguishes Rx Racial Healing from the various approaches to the healing of racism is the focus; the subject matter. In Rx Racial Healing our subject is healing. The modifier is racism. Healing means to make free from injury, fear and disease; to make sound or whole. My emphasis on healing reflects my understanding that our capacity to heal and to be whole as individuals and collectively as a society has been and continues to be hampered, indeed thwarted, by racism. We should never underestimate the power of human beliefs. The belief in a hierarchy of human value is as core to America as is our asserted belief in democracy. Changing, eradicating this belief is our work in the 21st Century. Neither the Civil War, nor the Civil Rights movement addressed this fundamental driving belief system. Both attempted to address the consequences of the belief – enslavement and the discriminatory polices and systems that were created. However, America has yet to eradicate the belief itself; the fallacy and absurd idea that human variation in superficial physical characteristics is a basis for assigning personhood and value, as well as freedom, citizenship, and access to opportunity.  Our failure to create this vital consciousness change makes us vulnerable as individuals and as a society. Our enemies exploit that national vulnerability. Our bodies are weakened by the exposure to the stress that is created by the belief and its consequences.

The pathways through which the resulting stress can interfere with our healing and wholeness are beginning to be understood and elucidated within health, genomic, biological,  psychological, social and political science. In my forthcoming book, Rx Racial Healing: A Handbook: Answers to Your Questions, I explore some of this science and offer guidance in the practice of racial healing.


This blog was originally published in the fall 2018 newsletter of the National Collaborative for Health Equity. Dr. Christopher, formerly vice president of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is the founder of the Ntianu Center for Healing and Nature.

The dog bite epidemic: a public health crisis

By Kathy Beard

The economic resurgence in Detroit has lead to many improvements in the Midtown and Downtown areas, as well as some neighborhoods. The Detroit Parks and Recreation Department is reactivating many community parks.Walking and biking paths are being built and bikes are now available to rent. Still, some residents are reluctant to use them due to the fear of roaming dogs. Their fears are not unwarranted.

Although estimates of stray and feral dogs were once as high as 50,000, newer estimates put it at one stray/feral dog for every 14 residents: still too high. In a city where residents struggle with poverty, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, access to inexpensive exercise, such as biking and walking, could significantly improve residents’ health. So, how is the city responding to this? And how can the MOTION Coalition Support these initiatives?

A recent study by Laura Reese, professor of Urban and Regional Planning at Michigan State University showed that dog bites are more likely to occur in areas with vacant homes and commercial properties. Stray dogs tend to live in the buildings as a means of shelter and a source of food. So, boarding up or demolishing vacant buildings should help mitigate the problem. In the past year, the city launched an aggressive demolition and boarding up program. Since then, the Board Up Brigade has boarded over 10,000 homes. The demolition project has razed over 15,000 commercial and residential buildings.

The city has also improved Animal Control Services. They released the following statement about the situation:

Detroit Animal Care and Control (DACC) has increased its number of animal intakes by more than 850 in 2017, compared to [previous year], and the number of dog bites has decreased by 32.7 percent.

The safety of our residents is our primary concern and DACC is doing the following to reduce the number of stray dogs in the community: 

  • Canvassing neighborhoods throughout the city three nights a week.
  • Taking in stray dogs seven days a week.
  • Enforcing ordinances that require residents fix their fences where dogs are present.
  • Writing tickets to residents who do not comply with Detroit City Ordinance.
  • Partnering with non-profit agencies for free/low-cost spay and neuter services.
  • Hiring more employees to respond to calls.

All residents should call 911 if they feel there is an immediate threat to their safety.

Additional staff and vehicles along with a 7 day work week is currently in effect. This has resulted in a 106 percent increase in citations in the first half of 2018 and a decrease in the number of reported bites by 13 percent. Whether these measures have had an impact on the stray dog population remains to be seen. MOTION Coalition can be impactful by supporting the city in its on-going efforts to control blight and alleviate some barriers to outdoor activity.

Second, Dr. Reese’s study showed that not all areas of Detroit have the same issues. Some zip codes have a higher number of reported bites, particularly among young males. In these areas, violent crimes are also significantly higher than predicted. These factors may suggest a link between bites and dog fighting. Reporting these activities could help reduce the incidences; however,residents have legitimate concerns for their safety if it becomes known that they reported a crime. One solution is to use the city’s new interactive crime databank, Crime Viewer (http://detroitmi.gov/crime-viewer/index.html). It allows anyone to view crime statistics by crime, date, time and location. Missing from the crime list is animal cruelty. Adding this crime to the database would help develop neighborhood-specific policy efforts to addressthis crime without putting the safety of residents in jeopardy.

In order for Detroit to promote active living, it needs safe neighborhoods. Managing the wild dog population is one big way we can support this objective. MOTION Coalition can support these initiatives by voicing its support for these initiatives.

Further Reading:

Detroit’s Stray Dog Epidemic: 50,000 Or More Roam The City

The Dog Days of Detroit: Urban Stray and Feral Animals

Detroit’s Board-up Brigade marks 1 year changing lives, communities

Emergency Department Visits and Inpatient Stays Involving Dog Bites, 2008

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

Detroit Demolition Program

A Closer Look at Dogfighting

Detroit Crime Viewer

Kathy Beard is program manager for MOTION Coalition. The MOTION Coalition, an initiative of Authority Health, is a coalition of over 80 organizations in Southeast Michigan focused on obesity and wellness.

Research confirms that expanding Medicaid is good for the economic of low income people

By Dennis Archambault

The proponents of Healthy Michigan have not had much share of voice in the debate over work rules for the expanded Medicaid program. However, a recent University of Michigan Ross School of Business study has confirmed the economic benefit of the health insurance benefit for low income individuals and suggests that the proposed work rules would put thousands of unemployed enrollees at risk.

It’s interesting to read, in specific detail, what proponents of expanded Medicaid have felt for some time. On one hand, the target population is struggling and in debt. They also are likely to have a chronic disease, which requires regular medical care, if not urgent episodes of hospitalization. On the other hand, however, having their health insurance covered reduces the economic burden and makes it more likely that their health will be better managed.

Note some of the findings:

  • Reduced the amount of medical bills in collections that the average enrollee had by 57 percent, or about $515.
  • Reduced the amount of debt past due but not yet sent to a collection agency by 28 percent, or about $233.
  • Led to a 16 percent drop in public records for financial events such as evictions, bankruptcies and wage garnishments; bankruptcies alone fell by 10 percent.
  • Resulted in enrollees’ being 16 percent less likely to overdraw their credit cards.
  • Led to improvement in individual credit scores, including the number with a “deep subprime” rating falling by 18 percent and the number listed as “subprime” falling by 3 percent.
  • Allowed enrollees to engage in more borrowing to buy cars or other goods and services, which is consistent with better credit scores. Enrollees experienced a 21 percent increase in automotive loans. Other studies have found that Medicaid expansion reduced use of payday loans and reduced interest rates for low-income people.
  • Helped people with chronic illnesses and those who had a hospitalization or emergency department visit during the study period with bigger reductions in their bills sent to collection and bigger increases in their credit scores.

Miller and colleagues published an academic report on the research in the Journal of Public Economics. Check that out for more details: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0047272718300707.

Dennis Archambault is vice president, Public Affairs, at Authority Health.


What does urban agriculture have to do with the Farm Bill?

By Kathy Beard

MOTION Coalition in Support for 2018 Revision of Agricultural Act of 2014

The growing movement towards urban farming has a champion in Senator Stabenow, but her efforts may be jeopardized soon. In 2016 she introduced the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016[1]. The act provides assistance to urban farmers with the goal of providing fresh, healthy options to the underserved. This Act became part of the revisions by the Senate to the Agricultural Act of 2014, frequently referred to as the Farm Bill. Section 7212 of the revised Senate Farm Bill amends the 1990 version to include grants for research, education and training to enhance urban and indoor agricultural production and for evaluation of these methods. It provides $4 million dollars per year (2019-2023) and an additional $10 million each year to carry out the process. It also authorizes $14 million for a two-year census data-gathering project to collect information on urban agricultural production including community gardens and farms, rooftop farms, greenhouses and vertical farming[2]. The House Bill does not address urban agriculture[3].Excluding urban farmingputs the Senate’s bi-partisan proposal addressing this issue at risk for a number of reasons.

As in the general legislature, the conference committee is dominated by Republicans (34/22), putting any chance of a democratic initiative in jeopardy of being cut from the final proposal. Second, the influence on the type of agriculture is heavily biased toward commodity cash crops, corn, wheat and soy. Texas, for example, which has the largest representation on the committee, produces primarily cattle and cotton[4]. California, with four representatives is the largest vegetable and fruit producer[5]. Commodity cash crops, dairy and farm animals are the primary sources of income for the remaining States represented on the committee. In most urban areas, it is still against the law to raise farm animals. The focus then, of the committee will not be on urban agriculture but on those cash producing items that bring money to the State.

Further, House Republican Chairman, Mike Conaway is a strong proponent of a improving the rural, not urban, environments and was the driving force behind the recent  HOUSE review of SNAP benefits which ultimately led to the proposal to restrict SNAP benefits by “offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families”[6] – code for tightening the work restrictions for ABAWD (Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents)[7]. It is this portion of the bill that will be the most heavily debated.

There is a sense of urgency to speed the process of completing a bill by September 30 when the 2014 version is set to expire. In cases like this, what many would consider a small matter may be sacrificed for expediency. Proponents of urban agriculture should be vigilant during this time and prepare to react to any threats to this portion of the bill. Click here to learn more about the committee hearings.

Recommended sites:

House Committee on Urban Agriculture

USDA Data on Cash Crops by State








Kathy Beard is program manager, MOTION Coalition, an initiative of Authority Health

Fix the (social) potholes!

By Dennis Archambault

Throughout the primary election the overstated campaign issue was “fix the potholes.”  It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that this is a metaphor for fixing or strengthening the state’s physical infrastructure. What about the social infrastructure?

The Citizens Research Council has released a report  (https://crcmich.org/an-ounce-of-prevention-what-public-health-means-for-michigan/)  that documents the drop in spending on public health in Michigan, pushing the state to the bottom in per-capita public health expenditures. You’d think that the Flint disaster would have prompted greater debate about the need for a stronger public health system, and specifically “health in all policies,” which could have prevented, or certainly minimized the damaged caused by poor government oversight.

According to the CRC report, Michigan has seen a worst-in-the-nation outbreak of Hepatitis A, numerous outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, an infant mortality rate well above the national average, and above average prevalence of chronic disease.

The report notes that the state has spent just enough to match federal public health funding, leaving local health department scrambling for funds to do little more than their required duties.

Why wouldn’t this be a campaign issue? Why is it that public health is seldom even mentioned in policy debates?

Eric Lupher, president of the CRC, concludes, “While the state has been engaged in a very successful Pure Michigan campaign to promote the state as a place to live, work, and play, its neglect of public health services creates negative press that often washes out the benefits of the promotional campaign. It detracts from the state’s investments in workforce development and job training. And it inflates healthcare costs that are high to begin with.”

Dennis Archambault is vice president, Public Affairs, at Authority Health.

The next generation of lower income seniors face a perilous future, which is bound to impact population health.

By Dennis Archambault

Advocates of low income housing are anticipating a “tsunami” as gentrification pushes existing low income tenants out of rental properties, more people losing their homes due to the collapse of their household income, and fiscally unprepared people retiring – some earlier than expected. The latter is a particularly acute problem as the Boomer generation retires with inadequate retirement savings. The homeless population in this segment is expected to climb, if not soar.

The New York Times did a good job reporting on the economic issue (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/05/business/bankruptcy-older-americans.html?nl=top-stories&nlid=67835882ries&ref=cta). This will be a critical concern for population health in the coming years.

Dennis Archambault is vice president for Public Affairs at Authority Health