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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: public health

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November 20, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Are King County taxpayers ready to fund levy focused on early childhood?

Seattleites just voted overwhelmingly to fund universal preschool. Will King County taxpayers supplement that effort next August or October by passing the Best Starts for Kids levy? This measure being floated by King County Executive Dow Constantine would fund early childhood programs and youth services. During a phone interview this week, Constantine said details are yet…

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Comments | Topics: brain development, early childhood, early learning

November 13, 2014 at 6:04 AM

King County Council wisely steps up to save public health, women’s health services

Hats off to the King County Council for unveiling a proposed 2015-2016 budget this week that keeps the county’s 10 public health clinics open — at least for now.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott

“The council recognized the importance of these services, especially maternity support services and the [Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children] that are unique to the county and that others don’t provide,” said Councilmember Joe McDermott, chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee.

Faced with a $15 million annual shortfall, Public Health — Seattle & King County has been scrambling to find partners to take over some or all of the direct services provided at its clinics, including primary care, family planning, maternity support and supplemental nutrition for infants. An Oct. 30 Seattle Times editorial commended efforts by cities and local health care partners to keep sites open in Federal Way and White Center. Public health employees even agreed to wage concessions, but it wasn’t enough to close the funding gap.

Before this week’s announcement, two sites were slated for closure in January — the Northshore Public Health Center in Bothell and the more heavily-used Auburn Public Health Clinic. (I profiled one of the clinic’s patients in a Nov. 3 blog post.) Last week, I followed up on a community effort to save the Auburn site, which included pledges from various groups totaling about $700,000. That amount fell short of the $1.6 million needed to prevent closure.

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Comments | Topics: birth control, king county, public health

November 6, 2014 at 12:12 PM

More community action necessary to save women’s health services in South King County

The race to find enough funding to keep the Auburn Public Health Clinic open just got a nice boost from local funders, but it’s not enough to prevent closure in January.

(Photo by Thanh Tan/The Seattle Times)

On Wednesday, Nov. 5, King County Executive Dow Constantine held a news conference at Auburn City Hall to announce those organizations that have stepped up to help Public Health — Seattle & King County keep the Auburn Public Health Center open. (Photo by Thanh Tan/The Seattle Times)

More cities, nonprofits and businesses still need to step up to help thousands of South King County’s most vulnerable women maintain access to family-planning services, as well as support programs for mothers and newborns.

On Wednesday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other county leaders announced a coalition has come forward and pledged between $550,000 to about $700,000 total to help Public Health — Seattle & King County offset a revised shortfall of about $1.6 million to keep the only standalone family-planning clinic (and its two satellite offices) accessible.

Here’s the key date for the community to act: Nov. 17. On that day, the Metropolitan King County Council is set to vote on the budget for the next two years. A blueprint will be revealed about a week before.

The more funds can be identified before then, the less likely the county will have to consider peeling off resources from other critical service areas.

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Comments | Topics: birth control, king county, public health

November 3, 2014 at 6:04 AM

Save women’s health, maternity support services in South King County

Dariia Leavitt, 25, is just one among thousands of clients watching closely to see if the Auburn Public Health Clinic remains open next January.

Dariia Leavitt signed up as a maternity support services client in 2011. (Photo courtesy of Dariia Leavitt)

Dariia Leavitt signed up as a maternity support services client at the Auburn Public Health Clinic in 2011. Today, she goes to the clinic for family planning services. (Photo courtesy of Dariia Leavitt)

Her story helps to make the case for why last Friday’s Seattle Times editorial called on elected officials, health providers and women’s health advocates to find about $1.7 million as soon as possible to keep the site open. Without that money or partners, the county will have to close a vulnerable section of South King County’s only standalone family planning clinic in January.

Leavitt first sought help three years ago after her daughter, Eve, was born. At the time, Leavitt had just arrived from the Ukraine, could not drive and spoke little English. After her mother-in-law learned about the Auburn clinic, Leavitt initially signed up as a client for Maternity Support Services (MSS). Thanks to this state program administered by King County, nurses conducted home visits to check on the baby’s health, offered Leavitt tips for better breastfeeding and answered her questions about being a first-time mother.

“It meant a lot to me,” Leavitt said earlier this month in one of the clinic’s meeting rooms, as Eve slept in her arms. The baby “got help when she needed it. We didn’t have to wait until I had insurance or could drive a car, and I didn’t have to borrow any money from anybody because I could afford paying the bill myself.

And even if I didn’t have the money at that time, I could pay the next time,” she added. “You can’t do that at regular clinics. It really helped me. I didn’t have to get a credit card.”

About 10,700 clients in the Auburn area — including women, teens, children and infants — rely on Public Health’s nurses and staff to learn parenting skills and access supplemental nutrition programs.

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Comments | Topics: auburn, birth control, king county

October 14, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Charts: Wake up and fund public health, prevention services

“When public health is effective, the public isn’t thinking about it,” says Metropolitan King County Council member Joe McDermott, head of the panel’s budget committee this year. It’s true. Prevention is not sexy. Fewer people care when the system works. However, the Ebola scare sweeping the world should be a wake-up call. Why wait for an…

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Comments | Topics: ebola, family planning, funding

April 4, 2014 at 6:02 AM

Ignore Jenny McCarthy. Local measles cases prove importance of getting vaccinated

Were you in King, Whatcom or Pierce counties this past weekend? Did you go to the Kings of Leon concert? Or downtown Seattle?

I hope you’ve got your measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot. Because this press release from King County is a powerful reminder that not getting vaccinated could really endanger public health:

A person who was confirmed with measles traveled to several Western Washington public locations while contagious. Most people in our state are immune to measles, so the public risk is low except for people who are unvaccinated. The woman traveled to Seattle for a Kings of Leon concert at Key Arena on March 28, when she also was at the Best Western Loyal Inn and the Wasabi Bistro. The next day, she was at Beth’s Café, Aurora Suzuki, Starbucks at First and Pike, and the Pike Place Market.

The Washington State Health Department has posted the full details of the unidentified woman’s time in each location. State officials also report one confirmed measles case in San Juan County. Between March 21 and 22, a traveler going through SeaTac was also diagnosed with the disease, which is highly contagious.

This undated photo shows a child with a classic day-4 rash with measles. (Photo courtesy of CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice)

This undated photo shows a child with a classic day-4 rash with measles. (Photo courtesy of CDC/NIP/ Barbara Rice)

The lesson? Protect your kids. Protect yourself. Get immunized. Read an Aug. 31, 2013 Seattle Times editorial, too, about the state’s embarrassing seventh place ranking among states where parents demanded vaccine exemptions for their kindergarten-aged kids.

In 2000, CBS News reports measles was close to being eradicated. Today, there are two measles outbreaks in New York City and Orange County. No surprise: many of the victims are unvaccinated children. I can’t stop thinking about those parents who refuse to protect their kids from deadly illnesses because they’ve been led to believe vaccines cause side effects such as autism. This  misguided belief places the rest of the community at risk.

Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle Children’s Hospital pediatrician and author of the Seattle Mama Doc blog, has some answers to explain the madness.

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Comments | Topics: Autism, measles, public health

December 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM

A disturbing look at where, how people likely to die in King County

Data can track how people these days are likely to die in King County. We now also know some of the leading causes of death are more prevalent in some parts of the region than others.

King County public health officials should be commended for mounting an ambitious effort to leverage data, dollars and services to produce healthier communities.

Earlier this month, the county convened more than 100 advocates and experts from the health, human service and community development sectors at a hotel in SeaTac. Their goal? To raise awareness of the challenge before them and to discuss a common path forward.

Just glance at the county maps below (from the presentation slides shown at the forum), and the health disparities between north and south King County become startlingly clear. (Note: The red areas signify where death rates are highest; blue signifies where the rates are lowest. Darker shades represent the best and worst outcomes.)

Source: King County Public Health

Source: King County Public Health

Source: King County Public Health

Source: King County Public Health

Seattle-King County Public Health Director David Fleming and King County Department of Community and Health Services Director Adrienne Quinn are leading the county’s efforts to do something about addressing these (often preventable) health disparities. Their message is common sense. Now is the time for advocates to break down silos and start forming new partnerships. Government can’t solve every problem or fund every solution, but it can collaborate with the private sector more effectively and direct investments into local communities that “have the most to gain.”

Closing the gaps means connecting public health with community development. It means taking steps to change environment and human behavior (see the chart below). It also underscores the need for affordable housing to be strategically located near jobs, health service providers, fresh food, transit, parks, libraries, schools and other amenities that are common characteristics of healthier, more affluent communities.

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Comments | Topics: disparities, king county, public health