The Affordable Care Act, which has already made changes in the way Americans buy health insurance, is also changing the relationship between two health care systems. Public health and medical health care have traditionally worked as two separate systems. The Affordable Care Act brings them together in new ways that should save lives and money.
The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, shifts from a system that focuses on treating the sick to one that emphasizes keeping people and communities healthy and safe. The law’s provisions on preventative health measures are consistent with reforms called for by the American Public Health Association.
The Affordable Care Act offers support for state and local prevention efforts, helps communities address preventable chronic health conditions, emphasizes community health needs assessments and improves nutritional labeling. It also funds public education campaigns focused on nutrition, exercise, tobacco prevention, dental health and other issues. The changes to the public health system offer an opportunity for families and communities to take a more proactive role in their health and safety, which is why the theme for this week’s National Public Health Week is “Start Here.”
At RiverStone Health, we began integrating our clinic and our public health efforts years ago to improve the health and safety of Yellowstone County residents. Through the Alliance, made up of Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and RiverStone Health, we periodically take the pulse of our community through the Community Health Needs Assessment, which was released in January. Using that information, we work together under the umbrella of Healthy By Design to tackle major health prevention issues. Much of the work involves creating ways to make the right health choice the easy choice.
Most of us are unaware of how we benefit from public health policies, but those decisions can be felt in every aspect of our lives, from the safety of the food we eat to the seat belts in our cars. The way we implement those policies and practices makes a difference in people’s lives.
Last year, RiverStone Health’s staff did more than 1,400 food inspections to ensure the safety of restaurants and other businesses. Our Environmental Health staff also inspected pools, day cares, tattoo parlors and other facilities. We provided more than 14,400 immunizations to members of our community. Several thousand students benefited from our rural school nursing services.
Because Montana’s suicide rate is nearly twice the national average, RiverStone Health staff helps train teachers, health professionals and members of the general public in a proven suicide prevention program, QPR, which stands for “Question, Persuade and Refer.”
Because diabetes is prevalent in our community, we have worked to integrate public health services with our clinic services. Those services help educate patients on the roles diet and physical activity play in managing their disease.
Powerful evidence shows us that mothers and babies get off to a better start in life when they eat healthy foods. In an average month we provide help to more than 2,700 participants in WIC, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
Because evidence shows that babies benefit when new mothers receive home visits from nurses and other health care providers, RiverStone Health staff see families though the Nurse-Family Partnership and Maternal Child Health Home Visiting. RiverStone Health also protects the public by monitoring disease outbreaks and preparing our community to withstand other potentially catastrophic public health threats.
The future of public health lies in integrating the two health systems, uniting medical health care with strong public health efforts. By integrating those two systems, we can further improve life, health and safety.