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Public Health

Drop in federal funds squeezes public health

The state budget recently delivered good news for Georgia public health: an overall increase in funding.

But behind those numbers are other numbers that have alarmed public health officials.

Dr. Georges Benjamin

Dr. Georges Benjamin

About 70 percent of the overall budget for the Department of Public Health comes from federal grants. And that federal money has seen significant reductions.

From fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2013, across all programs, Public Health lost about $25 million in federal money. And that drop has continued.

Almost all Health and Human Services and Homeland Security grants have been cut, said Dr. Patrick O’Neal, director of health protection for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

“It looks like we’re going to see ongoing [federal] cuts,’’ O’Neal told GHN in a recent interview. “It keeps us up at night.”

All states have suffered federal reductions to public health programs, according to the American Public Health Association. full story

What we don’t know on medical marijuana (a lot)

Although Colorado has become a popular destination for families seeking medical marijuana to treat children’s seizures, that state’s public health chief has some strong words of caution for parents.

Dr. Larry Wolk

Dr. Larry Wolk

Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, told GHN he empathizes with the families, but he cautioned that more data are needed on the safety and efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) oil, a non-psychoactive marijuana derivative, to treat seizures in children.

“We still don’t know if this works,” Wolk said. “We hear about cases anecdotally where it is effective. But nobody covers the cases that are ineffective. We need to do research.”

Colorado, which legalized medical marijuana in 2000 and recreational uses in 2013, has become a mecca for Georgia families seeking CBD oil to help their epileptic children whose frequent seizures have not been relieved by currently marketed medicines. Some families have moved to the state to gain access to the oil.

During the 2014 Georgia General Assembly session, state lawmakers — motivated by the pleas of desperate families — made an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation legalizing CBD oil in the Peach State.

On Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal offered an alternative. He authorized Georgia Regents University of Augusta (GRU) to set up two clinical trial programs of CBD oil for treatment of pediatric epileptic seizures. He also pledged state funding to support the initiative. full story

The Personal Side: Looking into getting older

While recently sharing a seafood dinner, three of my old high school friends and I also shared an inventory of our medical conditions.

“Old’’ is a relative term. We’re in our early 60s. And our annual reunion is a golf vacation in Florida, so we’re mobile enough to get around the links (and send too many Titleists splashing into lagoons).

After some initial chitchat, our dinner conversation eventually got around to health.

Andy MillerWe’re members of the generation born in the aftermath of World War II — the so-called baby boomers. But we haven’t been babies for a long time. And the older we get, the more the talk among us friends veers into what’s ailing us. One of our foursome is a physician, so he can often fill in the blanks of our knowledge.

First off, none of us has a perfectly functioning body. Few people at our age have everything in good working order.

One of my friends is in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. Another has atrial fibrillation, a heart condition he controls with medication. A third has high blood pressure. And I have occasional lower back problems, and take pills for cholesterol and thyroid conditions.

We’re all intent on maximizing our relative health for as long as we can. full story

Child Welfare Reform team selected

Six state lawmakers, two judges, the head of the Office of the Child Advocate, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s CEO have been named members of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Child Welfare Reform Council.

Gov. Nathan Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal

The governor recently created the council to improve Georgia’s child welfare system. It will conduct a review of the Division of Family and Children Services and advise Deal on possible executive agency reforms and legislative fixes.

Major reform of the foster care system was a hotly debated proposal in the recently completed General Assembly, but legislation that would have privatized much of that system failed to pass. The Georgia House and Senate were split on legislative efforts to bid out services such as foster care, adoption and case management to private organizations.

Longtime children’s advocate Stephanie Blank will chair the council and will work in conjunction with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Human Services. full story

Sullivan discusses health museum, ACA expansion

The Atlanta-based National Health Museum is still in its early stages, but fund raising is expected to ramp up this year, says Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, the organization’s chairman.

The former U.S. health and human services secretary told health journalists gathering in Denver on Thursday that the central goals of the museum are to improve the health literacy of Americans and promote healthy behavior.

Dr. Louis Sullivan's new autobiography

Dr. Louis Sullivan’s new autobiography

As designed, the museum will have a global online network and digital information hub called the Cyber Museum, and a visitor center at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park called the Experience Museum.

The latter is expected to offer a series of self-guided journeys focused on life, health and the human body.

Sullivan is a founder and was a longtime president of Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. As a featured speaker at the Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Denver, he discussed his days as HHS secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

Sullivan criticized Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and other governors who have decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, calling it “the wrong decision.’’ full story

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