Thursday, April 18, 2019

Medicaid audits include important findings but should be kept in context

By JEANIE DONOVAN | Policy Director, Louisiana Department of Health

Medicaid is arguably the most impactful public program in the state, and that’s why the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) has a steadfast commitment to maintaining the program’s integrity. Medicaid promotes the health and wellbeing of 1.7 million low-income Louisianans. While recent audit findings released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor are used by some as evidence that improper enrollment and fraud are pervasive in Louisiana’s Medicaid program, that is far from reality.

Improper enrollment and recipient fraud in Medicaid are the exceptions rather than the rule. Also, it is important to distinguish that recent legislative audits primarily identified cases of human error or neglect rather than actual fraud, which is defined by the federal government as the intentional provision of false information to get Medicaid. One audit by the Legislative Auditor estimated about 3% of all Medicaid expansion enrollees had wages above the eligibility limit after enrolling in the program and did not self-report their excess wages to the Department, as required by the state’s eligibility policy. Another audit identified five Medicaid expansion cases in which a caseworker’s error or failure to follow established protocol resulted in individuals who earned above the income limit being improperly enrolled in Medicaid.

It is important to remember that Medicaid expansion enrollees who had incomes above the eligibility limit did not receive any direct payments. Instead, the funding went to health insurers and healthcare providers responsible for delivering services to those individuals. What’s more, between federal Medicaid funding and premium taxes paid by health insurers to fund Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, no state general fund dollars are used for Medicaid expansion.

Still, any funding spent on an ineligible person is funding that could have been spent on another important purpose.  That’s why LDH, over the past two years, has greatly enhanced its investment in program integrity functions. Through our new eligibility and enrollment system, LDH is able to reduce caseworker error and more rigorously and regularly verify Medicaid recipients’ eligibility. Our new eligibility system has enhanced functionality that currently checks wage data and will soon check tax data to ensure that all recipients are earning below the eligibility limit, as recommended by the Legislative Auditor.

The department’s new Medicaid Recipient Fraud Investigations Unit is investigating cases and collaborating with the Louisiana Attorney General’s office to prosecute cases of Medicaid fraud. Recently, the Trump administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shared several of LDH’s Medicaid program integrity efforts for others states to consider.

LDH staff take the audit findings very seriously and have worked diligently to incorporate the recommendations of the Legislative Auditor into the Medicaid program. It is important, however, that the magnitude of the audit findings not be overstated or misrepresented. The vast majority of Medicaid recipients are eligible for the program and use their Medicaid health coverage to access needed medical care. The program is improving and saving lives in every town, city and parish across the state of Louisiana — a fact that is often overlooked or diminished in the ongoing conversations about program integrity.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Is your baby up to date on vaccinations?

By STACY HALL, RN, MSN | Immunization Program Director, LDH Office of Public Health

Vaccines are safe, effective and prevent disease, yet only 72% of infants in Louisiana are up to date with immunizations. Vaccination protects the child and entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of serious infectious diseases. Please join me in celebrating National Infant Immunization Week to highlight the importance of protecting infants from vaccine-preventable diseases and promoting healthy communities in Louisiana and throughout the United States. This year, National Infant Immunization Week will be April 27 to May 4.

Because of the success of vaccines in preventing disease in the U.S., parents may not have heard of some of today’s vaccines — including the inactivated polio vaccine and DTaP vaccine — or the serious diseases they prevent. These diseases can be especially severe for infants and young children. Protection begins before a baby is even born. Learn more about the importance of maternal vaccination at and follow the recommended immunization schedule to protect infants before they encounter potentially life-threatening diseases.

Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough still circulate in the United States and around the world, so continued vaccination is necessary to protect everyone from potential outbreaks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles eliminated from the United States in 2000, but the disease has made a comeback because of mistrust regarding the safety of vaccination. The second-greatest measles outbreak since elimination is ongoing, with over 450 cases in 19 states since January 1, 2019. Information on this measles outbreak, vaccination recommendations and resources are available at

2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the Vaccines For Children (VFC) program. VFC is a federally-funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not be able to afford the shot. The VCF program helps children get their vaccines according to the recommended immunization schedule. It has helped increase childhood immunization coverage levels, making a significant contribution toward making coverage more equal among young children.

Healthcare professionals remain parents’ most trusted source of information about vaccines for their children. They play a critical role in supporting parents in understanding and choosing vaccinations, and will help keep children up to date on vaccinations and work with parents to get their child caught up if they fall behind. The Louisiana Department of Health’s Healthy Babies Don’t Wait, Vaccinate webpage can help you find a VFC provider in Louisiana.

National Infant Immunization Week is a reminder of the importance of keeping up to date with vaccinations. Louisiana can do better than not protecting more than a quarter of our babies with timely immunizations. See how the infants in your parish are doing here.

Friday, April 5, 2019

STD conversations don’t have to stay in the dark

Number one for case rates of newborns born with syphilis.

Number two for chlamydia case rates.

Number three for primary and secondary syphilis case rates.

Number three for gonorrhea case rates.

These statistics belong to Louisiana, and they’re sobering. The rates of sexually transmitted diseases — syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and more — in our state make it vital that we have conversations about STDs: what they are, how they are spread, how they can be treated and how they can be prevented.

April is Louisiana STD Awareness Month. Like many other states around the U.S., Louisiana is participating in efforts to draw attention to STD awareness. And, because sexually transmitted diseases are often talked about in hushed whispers or not at all, that makes this year’s theme all the more important: “Start the Conversation — About STDs.” The slogan for this year’s campaign is, “It doesn’t matter how, it just matters that you do. Start the conversation!”

Three simple rules

The federal Centers for Disease Control’s Talk. Test. Treat. campaign encourages these three simple actions to protect yourself and others from STDs.

  • Talk openly and honestly to your partner(s) and your healthcare provider about sexual health and STDs.
  • Talk with your partner(s) BEFORE having sex. Not sure how? We have tips to help you start the conversation. Make sure your discussion covers several important ways to make sex safer:
    • Talk about when you were last tested and suggest getting tested together.
    • If you have an STD (like herpes or HIV), tell your partner.
    • Agree to only have sex with each other.
    • Use latex condoms from start to finish every time you have sex.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your sex life, and ask what STD tests you should be getting and how often.
    • Not all medical checkups include STD testing, so don’t assume that you’ve been tested unless you discuss it with your provider.
    • Ask your doctor whether certain vaccines, like the hepatitis B vaccine or the HPV vaccine, are right for you.
  • Get tested. It’s the only way to know for sure if you have an STD.
  • Many STDs don’t cause any symptoms, so you could have one and not know. If you’re having sex, getting tested is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health.
  • Find out which STD tests CDC recommends for you. Even if you’re pregnant, you can still get an STD. If you’re having sex, you’re still at risk.
  • If you’re not comfortable talking with your regular healthcare provider about STDs, find a clinic near you that provides confidential testing that’s free or low cost. (The Louisiana Department of Health’s STD/HIV Program administers statewide and regional programs. Learn more here.)
  • If you test positive for an STD, work with your doctor to get the correct treatment.
  • Some STDs can be cured with the right medicine from your doctor, and all STDs are treatable. Make sure your treatment works by doing these things:
    • Take all of the medication your doctor prescribes, even if you start feeling better or your symptoms go away.
    • Don’t share your medicine with anyone.
  • Avoid having sex again until you and your sex partner(s) have all completed treatment.
  • Your doctor can talk with you about which medications are right for you.
Don’t be afraid to have the conversation. Talk about it, get tested and if needed, get treated. Take care of yourself and those around you.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Spring illnesses and allergies are in bloom

The sun is bright, the air is warm and the bees are buzzing … so why are so many people miserable?

While the spring warmth, rain showers and blooming plants may be a welcome change to many after the chill of winter, others are hounded by spring allergies and illnesses, including the common cold.

Let’s take a look at these unwelcome spring conditions.

Allergies and asthma

Seasonal allergies affect more than 50 million Americans, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. An allergy is an overreaction of the immune system to substances, or allergens, that typically don’t affect other people. They may cause sneezing, coughing and itching and may be mild to life-threatening.

More than 25 million Americans have asthma — a disease of the lungs that causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness and nighttime or early morning coughing.
Both conditions are often triggered by soaring pollen counts encountered by people spending more time outdoors in the warm weather, as well as the growth of mold indoors and outdoors prompted by spring showers.

If you have seasonal allergies, it’s important to take your medication. If possible, start your medication two weeks before your symptoms typically show up or before your local newscast reports a streak of warm weather on the horizon. Also, check with your doctor to make sure you have the right kind of medication. People with asthma should keep their peak flow meters and rescue inhalers handy. You will also want to keep an eye on pollen counts if you already know what kind of pollen sets off your condition.

To find an allergy and asthma screening location in your area, click here.
The cause of roughly half of all common colds, rhinoviruses spread easily during spring, a peak time for these illnesses. Rhinoviruses are viral infections, as their name implies, and typically cause upper respiratory infections but sometimes affect the lower respiratory system as well. To avoid spreading or catching a rhinovirus, practice preventive measures like coughing or sneezing into your elbow or a tissue, washing your hands regularly and avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth.
Just because winter is behind us doesn’t mean that the flu has also taken a hike. Flu activity in Louisiana has declined recently but is still elevated, and higher than our peak last season. This flu season, there have been about 7,000 hospitalizations and 700 deaths in Louisiana from flu and flu-related illnesses. Like rhinoviruses, preventive measures are key, including avoiding people who are sick and staying home from work or school if you have the flu. The best preventive measure is the flu shot, which can reduce the duration of illness, doctors’ visits and missed school and work, as well as flu-related hospitalizations. Learn more about how you can Fight the Flu.
Known more commonly as pink eye, conjunctivitis is common during the spring months and is often confused with allergy symptoms. It’s a highly contagious condition that is easily spread, particularly among young children. Keep conjunctivitis at bay with regular and frequent hand washing and avoiding touching the eyes. This condition can be bacterial, viral or allergic, and treatment varies depending on type. Viral is treated for symptoms only, bacterial requires antibiotics, and allergic can be treated with antihistamines taken by mouth and/or in the eye.
Norovirus and rotavirus
Norovirus and rotavirus come with stomach pain, cramping, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting, and sometimes low-grade fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. These symptoms are very unpleasant and typically last one to two days, but norovirus and rotavirus can be spread for several days after the symptoms clear up. Again, wash your hands frequently and stay home from work or school if needed. You will also want to wash your bedding and disinfect any household items that you may have touched.
Lyme disease
Spring weather, with its warmth and rain showers, is the perfect breeding ground for deer ticks, which transmit Lyme disease. Fortunately, Lyme disease is relatively rare in Louisiana, with just a handful of cases every year. Protect yourself when spending time outdoors by avoiding walking in tall grasses and other vegetation and using tick repellant. Watch your skin for a bull’s-eye rash, which is a sign of Lyme disease. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.
Don't let spring allergies and illnesses get you down. Take preventive measures and talk to your doctor if you're sick or concerned that you may become sick. Enjoy these warm days before the heat and oppressive humidity of summer take over!

Friday, March 22, 2019

It's OK to talk about colorectal cancer

Some cancers are more difficult for people to talk about, due to the sensitive nature of their location and worries about embarrassment. Colorectal cancer, sometimes simply called colon cancer, is one of them.
Since March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, let’s talk about it and dispel the embarrassment. 
Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon, also called the large intestine or large bowel, or the rectum, the passageway linking the colon to the anus. Polyps, or abnormal growths, sometimes develop in the colon or rectum and may eventually become cancerous. 
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include bloody stool; stomach pain, aches or cramps that don’t go away; and unexplained weight loss. Talk with your doctor or healthcare provider if you are having any of these symptoms, since they may be caused by something other than cancer. Your doctor may order diagnostic tests to discover the cause of your symptoms.

People with polyps or undiagnosed cancer may not always have symptoms, especially at first, which makes regular screening especially important. Several options are available, and each has its pros and cons:
  • STOOL TESTS: There are three kinds of tests, which check your stool for blood and test it for cancerous cells.
  • FLEXIBLE SIGMOIDOSCOPY: The doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to look for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.
  • COLONOSCOPY: This test is nearly identical to flexible sigmoidoscopy, with the difference being that the doctor checks the rectum and the entire colon. Most polyps and some cancers can be removed during a colonoscopy. It can also be used as a follow-up test for any of the other screening tests.
  • CT COLONOGRAPHY: Also called virtual colonoscopy, it uses X-rays and computers to produce images of the entire colon. The images are displayed on a computer screen for the doctor to analyze.

Screening is recommended for anyone ages 50 to 75, since about 90 percent of new colorectal cancer cases are found in people ages 50 and older. It’s also recommended for people younger than 50 if they or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or cancer, if they have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, or if they have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
Talk with your doctor to determine whether you need screening, what kind of screening is right for you and how often you should be screened. Your doctor will explain the procedure, any preparations you may need to make in advance of the test and potential risks.
Colon cancer statistics from the Healthy Louisiana dashboard show how many Louisianans have received colon cancer screening, diagnosis and polyps removed as a result of the 2016 Louisiana Medicaid expansion.

Tackling cancer in Louisiana
In Louisiana, colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death from 2010 to 2014. For those years, Louisiana also had the third highest incidence and death rates in the United States.
To address this and other cancers, Gov. John Bel Edwards and Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee launched the statewide Taking Aim at Cancer in Louisiana (TACL) initiative in May 2018. This collaborative effort brings together leaders from healthcare, business, government, community, advocacy, philanthropy and other sectors, all with one common goal: improving cancer outcomes in our state.
To improve cancer outcomes, TACL seeks to improve early detection, improve patient care and treatment, and ultimately improve patient outcomes. Statewide partners, including doctors who treat cancer patients, also are called upon through TACL to help coordinate policies, programs and practices related to cancer diagnoses and treatments.
TACL was established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation in February, helping us tackle cancer in Louisiana one step at a time.
Learn more about TACL here. You can learn more about colorectal cancer here and here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Vaccines rock — here's why

The New York Times recently produced this easy-to-understand video — inspired by the Schoolhouse Rock! format — that discusses the importance of vaccines. It takes on the beliefs held by many people who may not trust in vaccines and explains how those beliefs are misguided.
The video ends with statistics that show the decrease in illnesses such as measles and measles-related deaths from 2000 to 2017 because of vaccines, and the sudden increase in cases since then as more people choose not to vaccinate themselves or their families.
Just last week, a federal judge cited an “unprecedented measles outbreak” in New York’s suburban Rockland County when denying a request to let 44 unvaccinated children return to school. The children’s parents had sued the county health department, saying none of their kids had gotten the measles.

(UPDATE: Health officials in New York's Rockland County declared a state of emergency March 26 due to the measles outbreak. Unvaccinated children under the age of 18 are prohibited from going out in public spaces for 30 days or until they receive a vaccination, according to CBS News. The county has 153 confirmed cases of measles, mostly in unvaccinated children.)
Here in Louisiana, the vaccination rate among children entering kindergarten is over 96 percent — a very healthy number, but there’s always room for improvement. To see how we stack up against other states, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s School Vax View.
For information about vaccination in Louisiana, click here.

Friday, March 15, 2019

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

By JULIE FOSTER HAGAN | Assistant Secretary, LDH Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities

Every year, March is celebrated as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, a time to highlight those in our communities who may be affected by a developmental disability. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has even declared March 2019 as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month in our state.

Louisiana’s legal definition of a developmental disability is a severe, chronic disability that is attributable to an intellectual or physical impairment or combination of intellectual and physical impairments that is manifested before age 22, is likely to continue indefinitely and results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

About one in six children in the United States have one or more developmental disabilities or other developmental delays, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stories of success

Lots of notable people have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities — here are just a few.

Stephen Hawking, the renowned English theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author, was diagnosed with ALS — more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease — shortly after he turned 21 years old. This terminal illness affects and kills the neurons that control the brain and spinal cord, gradually leading to paralysis. Hawking was given two years to live at the time of his diagnosis, yet defied the odds and lived to the age of 76. Along the way, he made enormous contributions to science and disability outreach.

Stephen Hawking takes a zero-gravity flight in a reduced-gravity aircraft in 2007. 

Helen Keller fell ill at the age of 19 months with what is thought to be either scarlet fever or meningitis, which left her blind and deaf. She had limited communication until age 7, when teacher Anne Sullivan made a breakthrough by spelling the word “water” into one of Keller’s hands as water ran over the other hand. With the world of language at her fingertips, Keller grew up to become the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree, and an author, political activist and lecturer.

Helen Keller holds a magnolia circa 1920.

James Madison was 21 when he began having seizures that left him temporarily immobile. Doctors diagnosed him with epilepsy and, believing a change of climate beneficial, urged him to move to western Virginia. That’s where he discovered public service as his calling. His first office in public service was on the Committee of Safety in Orange County, Virginia. He went on to become an American statesman, one of the Founding Fathers and the fourth president of the United States.

This portrait of fourth president James Madison hangs in the White House.

Temple Grandin’s mother hypothesized her daughter’s symptoms were best explained by autism after coming across a checklist published by a renowned psychologist, though Grandin didn’t receive a formal diagnosis until her 40s. She is also an autistic savant who has become well known for her consultancy in the livestock industry, championing the humane treatment of livestock for slaughter, as well as her international activism for people with autism.

Temple Grandin at a book signing at Rochester Community and Technical College in Rochester, Minnesota.

Abbey Nicole Curran was born with cerebral palsy but never let her disability deter her from chasing her dreams. In 2004, at the age of 16, she founded the Miss You Can Do It Pageant with the goal of passing on positive feelings to other girls with disabilities. Four years later, she became Miss Iowa USA 2008 and the first person with a developmental disability to vie for the title of Miss USA. Curran has also found success as an author and motivational speaker.

Former Miss Iowa USA Abbey Nicole Curran started the Miss You Can Do It Pageant.

Discovering developmental disabilities

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting milestones or there may be a problem with your child’s development, talk to your child’s doctor or health care provider. Your child may be monitored for developmental delays or problems, and if any are detected, follow up with a developmental screening. This short test can determine whether your child is learning basic skills at the expected pace or if there are delays.

If screening finds your child has a developmental delay, get help as soon as possible. Early identification and intervention are key. The earlier a developmental delay is discovered, the less your child will have a chance to be significantly affected.

Contact your local human services authority or local government entity to find out if your child is eligible for services from the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities. The Office also provides a variety of resources here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Louisiana facing a maternal health crisis

By DR. POOJA MEHTA | Medical Director, Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative 

Louisiana’s mothers and their supporters may have felt disturbed or afraid after reading last week’s articles about birth care in New Orleans.

Hardworking providers — physicians, nurses, and midwives — may have felt misunderstood or painfully reminded of a case that went poorly.

Medical trainees, Louisiana’s future birth providers, may have felt deterred from their calling.

And undoubtedly all of us felt deep sorrow at stories of suffering and families changed forever, leaving us asking, “what can we do to stop this?”

No single institution or individual can change the reality of Louisiana’s worsening maternal health crisis. We rank 47th of 48 reporting states in maternal mortality. Black women are four times more likely to die of complications of pregnancy when compared to white women, due to lifetimes of differences in care, education, healthy environments, accumulated stress due to racism — or simply being less likely to be heard during a critical moment.

It does not have to be this way. Not every instance of severe maternal morbidity is avoidable, but harm from bleeding and high blood pressure, Louisiana’s leading causes of pregnancy-related death, is preventable. Solutions exist: doctors, nurses, patients, and leaders, working together to improve communication, preparedness, response time, teamwork, and escalation of care when needed.

Childbirth is typically normal. Our numbers reflect system failures in preparedness for rare events — not the choices of individual women or providers. Systems solutions have worked in other states, countries, and some hospitals here in Louisiana.

In fact, every New Orleans hospital named in last week’s article is already participating in the Louisiana Perinatal Quality Collaborative. This 31-hospital collaborative is using shared accountability and coaching from experts to make change. Our goal is to reduce severe maternal harm due to bleeding and blood pressure in Louisiana by 20 percent, and reduce differences between black and white women — in one year.

To do this, we need to translate frustration and concern into immediate action:

If you have experienced birth in a Louisiana hospital and have ideas for what could have gone better, we want to hear your ideas, and invite you to work directly with a collaborative team in your community.

If you are a provider at a Louisiana birth facility, find out if your facility is participating, and what you can do to help your team today.

If you are a hospital executive or legislator, ensure that your collaborative teams have the support they need to make change that matters to families. Demand that hospitals in your region partner with each other to take the best care of the sickest among us.

Let’s use our discomfort to achieve equitable, consistent care for every woman, every time. And let’s do it together, now.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Women's History Month 2019: Celebrating the Achievements of Women in Healthcare and Medicine

Women's History Month affords us the chance to reflect on and honor the ways in which women have helped shape, not only the United States but also the rest of the world.

This year, the Louisiana Department of Health will be highlighting women pioneers in medicine and healthcare who have not only advanced and advocated for the health of all Americans but also advanced the cause of women and gender equality around the world.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Collaborative efforts helping people to live in their communities

Good things are happening at the Louisiana Department of Health, and we’d like to share them with you.

In the coming months, we will be sharing stories from people receiving services from the Office for Citizens with Disabilities and the Office of Aging and Adult Services. Both Offices have been hard at work finding ways to help Louisianans continue to live in the communities they love while receiving the services they need to help them live independent, productive lives.

Our hope is that by sharing these stories of success, others may learn about programs and services that may be beneficial to them or to someone they love.

For instance, Medicaid recipient Franklin Wells, 61, suffered a stroke in 2011 that landed him in a New Orleans-area nursing facility. But through the coordinated efforts of the My Place Louisiana and Louisiana Permanent Supportive Housing programs, he has returned to living in his community.

Franklin Wells transitioned back into the community from a nursing facility thanks to coordinated efforts of the My Place Louisiana and Louisiana Permanent Supportive Housing programs.

You may be wondering: What are these programs?

My Place Louisiana is a program of the Department of Health, incorporating efforts between the Office of Aging and Adult Services (OAAS), Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities (OCDD) and Bureau of Health Services Financing (Medicaid).  The program helps Medicaid recipients transition from institutions and return to the communities in which they live. For OAAS, this means transitioning nursing home residents to live in their own home, an apartment, at home with family, or with roommates with the support of waiver services from OAAS.

Permanent Supportive Housing is a joint initiative of LDH and the Louisiana Housing Corporation, led within LDH by OAAS. It links affordable rental housing with voluntary, flexible and individualized services. This program has served more than 6,000 households since its creation, allowing people with disabilities to live in their communities.

To transition back into the community, Mr. Wells needed assistance with dialysis, affordable housing and daily tasks such as meal preparation. He qualified for the OAAS Community Choices Waiver, which provides him with services for assistance with meal preparation and other tasks. Staff with the Permanent Supportive Housing program helped him find an apartment in his old neighborhood that was made affordable through the partnership with the Louisiana Housing Corporation. Mr. Wells will receive dialysis close to home three days a week, with transportation provided by the dialysis center.

Franklin Wells, center, received transition assistance from Permanent Supportive Housing tenant service manager Travis Wain, left, and My Place Louisiana transition coordinator Andrea Cressionnie.

Now that he is back in his community, Mr. Wells is looking forward to spending time with friends and getting to know his city again.

Mr. Wells is just one of many people receiving the right care in the right place. His story also shows how addressing important social determinants of health, such as affordable housing with supports to assure successful tenancy, can contribute toward more cost-effective care and better outcomes for those LDH serves.

Continue to follow the LDH blog for more success stories.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Play it safe during March Madness

March is a month of madness — March Madness, to be exact. The annual NCAA basketball tournament draws millions of eyes as sports fans, as well as non-sports fans, place their bets on what they hope will be a winning team.

It’s no coincidence that March Madness takes place at the same time as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. Americans are expected to bet more than $10 billion during March Madness, with only 3 percent ($300) bet legally. Nevada is the only American state where it’s legal to place bets on a college basketball game, meaning most wagers are placed in situations like brackets, office pools or between friends. Such friendly wagers may seem harmless, but they can be an easy way for a person to get hooked on gambling. For those who already have a gambling addiction, it simply continues to feed the problem.

Problem gambling takes a toll on all ages, genders and races in Louisiana. Here are some findings from a 2016 study conducted by the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health.

•  An estimated 5.4 percent of Louisiana’s adult population is at risk for addiction.
•  About 2.9 percent of Louisiana adults are pathological gamblers.
•  Calls to the toll-free Problem Gamblers Helpline show 56 percent of callers are men and 44 percent are women.
•  Most of the callers identified themselves as either Caucasian (49 percent) or African American (47 percent).
•  Financial problems overwhelmingly are the events that spark the helpline calls, followed by marital or family problems and mental health problems.

Signs of a gambling problem include:

•  Lying to loved ones about gambling activity
•  Deterioration of work performance
•  Trouble concentrating
•  Missing deadlines and important responsibilities
•  Worrying about mounting debts and inability to pay them

Problem gambling may even lead to trouble with the law. Just this week, a former postal worker admitted in court to stealing more than $630,000 worth of stamps from the U.S. Post Office in Kenner. He sold the stamps online to help pay for huge gambling losses he had racked up in recent years, including more than $667,000 at Harrah’s Casino in 2011 alone. He is now facing up to 10 years in prison.

Help is available

If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling problem, multiple resources are available at no cost as long as you’re a Louisiana resident.

•  Office of Behavioral Health: (225) 342-2540 or
•  Local human services agencies:
•  Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling: (318) 227-0883 or; live chatting available
•  Louisiana Problem Gamblers Helpline: 1-877-770-STOP (7867); toll-free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
•  Center of Recovery (CORE), Shreveport: 1-318-424-HELP (4357); residential treatment for problem and disordered gambling

There is hope

It can be difficult to turn your back on a gambling problem. Read this Breakup Letter to Gambling Addiction, shared by courtesy of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, and don’t lose hope. Gambling addiction is real, and we are here to help.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Laissez les bon temps rouler: Catch beads, not the flu

Mardi Gras parades are on a roll — and so is the flu.

Louisiana has seen a spike in flu-like illness in recent weeks as the season reaches its peak, climbing from 4 percent in January to 12.4 percent this month. That’s in comparison to last year’s flu season, which peaked somewhere between 12 percent and 13 percent of all healthcare visits.

Nationwide data shows Louisiana is no different from most states in reporting widespread flu activity. This season is considered by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be less severe than recent seasons, though that’s no reason to let down your guard, especially as people gather in large groups for Mardi Gras celebrations.

The flu causes approximately 500 deaths and nearly 3,000 hospitalizations each year in Louisiana. Last year’s flu season saw more than 15,000 hospitalizations and more than 1,600 deaths, of which five were pediatric deaths.

Best defense? Get a shot

Take action to protect yourself and those around you before celebrating Mardi Gras so that you can catch beads, not the flu. Your best defense is to get a flu shot, which will reduce your chances of getting the flu and spreading it. It’s recommended every year for all people over 6 months of age who do not have a complicating condition, such as a prior allergic reaction to the flu shot. The flu shot is especially recommended for babies and young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and people 65 years and older.

The flu vaccine isn’t perfect and some people who get their shot may still get the flu, but their symptoms should be milder than if they did not get the flu shot. While you’re at it, talk with your doctor about any other vaccines you may need.

Stay home if you’re sick

One of the easiest ways to stop the spread of the flu, but the one step that is always is ignored, is to stay home and avoid contact with others if you have even the mildest symptoms. We all know that person who is sniffling, coughing or sounds congested at the meeting or in a nearby workspace. We know they’re sick and we hope we won’t catch their germs.

But what if it’s you with the cough? Will you stay home? The reality is one-quarter of U.S. workers trudge off to the job despite not feeling well. According to Newsweek (which published five reasons why sick people shouldn’t go to work), men are greater offenders than women, with 33 percent of guys going to work while more than 80 percent of women know better and stay home.

Here are some additional tips to prevent spreading the flu:
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you have cold symptoms or have fever greater than 100.3, stay away from others until you have not had a fever for 24 hours.
  • Call your doctor immediately to see if an antiviral medication is appropriate for you.
  • If you are sick, do not visit vulnerable loved ones who may be receiving care in a hospital, nursing home, cancer center or other setting.
  • If you are sick, do not kiss babies, pregnant women, grandparents and others who may be at a higher risk of getting sick.
  • Cover your cough and sneeze.
  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

Learn more about how to fight the flu here.

Don’t ruin your Carnival season by coming down with the flu. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Black History Month 2019: Celebrating the Achievements of African-Americans in Healthcare and Medicine - Part II

Each year, Black History Month gives us an opportunity to reflect on and honor the ways in which African-Americans have shaped the United States.

For Black History Month 2019, the Louisiana Department of Health will be highlighting African-American pioneers in medicine and healthcare who have not only advanced and advocated for the health of all Americans, but also advanced race relations in the U.S.

To view part one, click here.

Charles Drew - First African American surgeon examiner of the American Board of Surgery and created a system that allowed the immediate and safe transfusion of blood plasma.

Born on June 3, 1904 in Washington, D.C. to Richard T. Drew and Nora Burrell, Charles R. Drew grew up in the city. He attended Dunbar High School, where his excellence in academics and athletics earned him an athletic scholarship to Amherst College in Massachusetts.

After graduating from Amherst in 1926, he began work as director of athletics at Morgan College before attending McGill University’s medical school in Canada. There, he studied with Dr. Beattie and developed his interest in blood storage before he graduated in 1933. He returned to Washington D.C. to become a professor at Howard University’s Medical School.

In 1938, the Rockefeller Foundation offered Drew a research fellowship at New York’s Columbia – Presbyterian Medical Center to study blood.  While there he discovered that plasma, a pale yellow liquid without the blood cells could be stored, preserved, and used in time of emergency.  Shortly after receiving a Ph.D., he was asked to direct a pilot program for collecting, testing, and distributing blood plasma in Great Britain.  During the five-month program, Drew and his associates collected blood from over 15,000 people and gave about 1,500 transfusions.

With the success of the program, Drew gained international fame and was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Plasma Bank. During World War II, he recruited 100,000 blood donors for the U.S. Army and Navy.  Their blood saved the lives of thousands of wounded soldiers.

He returned to Washington D.C and became the head of Howard University’s Department of Surgery and later Chief Surgeon at the University’s Freedman’s Hospital.

Drew died on April 1, 1950 while en route to a Tuskegee Institute medical conference.

Dhadon, D. (2008, December 30) Charles R. Drew (1904-1950). Retrieved from

Helen Dickens – First African-American woman admitted to the American College of Surgeons

Helen Dickens was born in Dayton, Ohio on February 21, 1909. Her father, Charles Dickens, had been enslaved in Tennessee as a child and moved north to Ohio shortly after the end of the Civil War. It was there he met her mother, Daisy Jane Green, who had migrated to the United States from Canada with her family. Settling in Dayton, the couple had three children. At her father’s insistence, Helen Octavia Dickens attended integrated elementary and secondary schools, deciding to pursue a career in medicine at the age of 12.

Dickens received a B.S. at the University of Illinois in 1932, followed by an M.D. from the University of Illinois School of Medicine in 1934. The only African-American woman in her graduating class, Dickens next completed a 2-year residency in obstetrics at Provident Hospital in Chicago. She then moved to Philadelphia, working with the birthing practice of Dr. Virginia Alexander, part of Asparanto Health Home, a position she would hold for seven years.

In 1942 Dickens returned to school, this time at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Medicine, earning a Masters Degree in Medical Science with a focus on obstetrics. In 1945, she passed the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology board examinations, making her the first African American woman to hold the certification in Philadelphia.

In 1945, Dickens became Director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia, one of only a few racially integrated facilities in the city. In 1951 she joined the staff of the Women’s Hospital, serving as chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 1956 to 1964, when the hospital was taken over by the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine. Dickens eventually held faculty positions at both the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania, School of Medicine where she served as associate dean of minority admissions, helping to recruit and retain students of color.

Dickens’ passions extended well outside the classroom and into the community. In 1967, for example, she founded a Teen Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania aimed at aiding young mothers, one of the first such centers in the country. She also promoted early cancer screenings and prevention, especially in underserved communities.  Dickens served on the board of directors for numerous nonprofit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Aid Society, and the Devereaux Foundation.

During her career, Dickens received honorary degrees from both the Medical College of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania. She was recognized by the American Medical Women’s Association, the National Association of Medical Minority Educators, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the National Council of Negro Women, and the Frederick Douglass Society. Following her retirement in 1998, the University of Pennsylvania named a clinic in her honor: the Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s Health.

Dr. Dickens passed away on December 2, 2001 at the age of 92.

Mahoney, E. (2017, December 24) Helen Octavia Dickens (1909-2001). Retrieved from

Patricia Bath - First African-American woman physician to receive a patent for a medical invention

Patricia Era Bath, a prominent ophthalmologist and innovative research and laser scientist, was the first African American woman physician to receive a patent for a medical invention.  Bath was born on November 4, 1942 in Harlem, New York to Rupert Bath, a Trinidadian immigrant and the first black motorman in the New York City subway system, and Gladys Rupert, a domestic worker.  In 1959 while in high school at Charles Evans Hughes, she received a grant from the National Science Foundation to attend the Summer Institute in Biomedical Science at Yeshiva University. There, she studied the relationship between stress, nutrition, and caner.  In 1964, Bath graduated from Hunter College in New York City with a B.S. in chemistry.  Four years later, she received her medical degree from Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C.

The start of Bath’s medical career has been one that broke many racial and gender grounds.  From 1970 to 1973, she completed her training at New York University School of Medicine as the first African American resident in ophthalmology. While a young intern at Harlem Hospital and Columbia University, Bath noticed the contrast between the eye clinic of Harlem where half of the patients were visually impaired or blind and Columbia, where only a few patients suffered from blindness.  Because of this, Bath conducted a study and found that blindness among blacks was double that among whites due to the lack of access of proper eye care in black communities.  In an attempt to remedy this alarming problem, she proposed a new worldwide system known as community ophthalmology in which trained eye care volunteers visit senior centers and day care programs to test the vision and screen for cataracts, glaucoma, and other serious eye conditions.  Through this community outreach program, underserved populations whose eye conditions would have gone untreated have a better chance to prevent blindness.

In 1974, she completed a fellowship in corneal and keratoprosthesis surgery (a procedure that replaces the human cornea with an artificial one).  In that same year, she moved to Los Angeles where she became the first African American woman surgeon at the UCLA Medical Center, and she was also appointed assistant professor at Charles R. Drew University.  In 1975, she became the first woman faculty member of the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute.  Despite her many accomplishments and brilliance in ophthalmology research, the department offered her an office in the basement next to the lab animals.  She refused to take the spot but continued to do her work despite numerous incidences of gender and racial discrimination.  In 1977, she and three colleagues founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness.

In 1981, Bath traveled to Berlin University to learn more about laser technology and to continue her research that had been continuously stymied by the racial and gender politics of UCLA. The Laser Medical Center of Berlin West Germany, the Rothschild Eye Institute of Paris, France, and the Loughborough Institute of Technology in England accepted the merits of her research. Over the next five years, she began developing a model for a laser instrument that tested the removal of cataracts.  In the meantime in 1983, she chaired the ophthalmology residency training program at Drew and UCLA, becoming the first woman to hold that position in the nation. On May 17, 1988, Bath received a patent for her invention, the Laserphaco Probe, and the new technique used for cataract surgery. The device restored the sight of thousands of patients worldwide and was the only one available for the removal of cataracts. Bath’s contributions changed the field of ophthalmology.

In 1993, Bath retired from UCLA Medical Center and continues to advocate for fighting blindness. In 2001, she was inducted into the International Women in Medicine Hall of Fame.

Bath currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband Dr. Benny J. Primm.  They have one daughter, Eraka Patty Jene Bath.

Cobbins, Q. (2009, March 29) Patricia Bath (1942- ). Retrieved from

Alexa Canady – First African-American woman neurosurgeon

Alexa Canady was the first woman and the first African American to become a neurosurgeon. She was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1950 to parents who were graduates of black colleges – her father from the Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry and her mother from Fisk University. She and her brother were the only black students at the local schools where she graduated as a National Achievement Scholar in 1967. Canady entered the University of Michigan as a math major, but when the opportunity arose, she transferred into the school’s pre-med program. She graduated in 1971 and was accepted into Michigan’s College of Medicine where she graduated magna cum laude in 1975. Canady interned at New Haven Hospital, Yale’s primary teaching hospital, before she became America’s first female and first black neurosurgeon as a resident at the University of Minnesota.

After five years of training Canady accepted a fellowship in Pediatric Neurosurgery at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia from 1981-82 where she taught at the Pennsylvania College of Medicine at the same time. In 1983 she retuned to Michigan as a neurosurgeon at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital. She also joined the staff of Children’s Hospital of Michigan as a pediatric neurosurgeon.  Three years later Canady, at the age of 36, became the chief of staff, a position she retained until 2001. Later Canady taught at Wayne State University and in 1997 became the Medical School’s clinical professor of neurosurgery. In 1993 Canady was named the American Medical Women’s Medical Association Woman of the Year and was inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

BlackPast, B. (2007, January 18) Alexa Canady (1950- ). Retrieved from

Marilyn Gaston - First African-American female director of an U.S. Public Health Service Bureau

Marilyn Hughes Gaston, M.D., faced poverty and prejudice as a young student, but was determined to become a physician. She has dedicated her career to medical care for poor and minority families, and campaigns for health care equality for all Americans. Her 1986 study of sickle-cell disease led to a nationwide screening program to test newborns for immediate treatment, and she was the first African American woman to direct a public health service bureau (the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the United States Department of Health and Human Services).

By the time she was 9 years old, Marilyn Hughes knew she wanted to be a doctor, but because she was poor and black, she was dissuaded from pursuing her dream. She studied zoology at Miami University, and when she graduated in 1960, she enrolled at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, encouraged by a physician she worked for. When she began medical school, she was one of only six women, and the only African-American woman in her year.

Dr. Gaston first became interested in the problems of children with sickle cell disease (SCD) while doing her internship at Philadelphia General Hospital in 1964. SCD is an inherited blood disorder that results in chronic anemia and recurring episodes of pain. In a person with SCD, some blood cells take on a sickle-like, crescent shape, causing hemoglobin to clump and block the capillaries, ultimately damaging blood-starved tissues. Over time, it can cause weakness, even death, especially for patients in developing nations, where treatment is not readily available. According to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, each year approximately a thousand babies are born with the disease in America.

One evening, during her internship, Dr. Gaston admitted a baby with a badly swollen hand. No trauma was reported, and she could not find the cause of the swelling. Her supervising resident suggested she check the blood work for evidence of sickle cell disease. The child did have SCD, and his hand was swollen from infection. Gaston was appalled that she hadn't even considered checking for this condition, and set out to learn everything she could about it. She secured federal grants to study SCD in children and established protocols for routine screening for the disease. In 1976 she began a long association with the National Institutes for Health as a medical expert, and later, as deputy branch chief of the Sickle Cell Disease Branch.

In 1986 Dr. Gaston published the results of a groundbreaking national study that proved the effectiveness of giving SCD children long-term penicillin treatment to prevent septic infections. Her study showed that babies should be screened for SCD at birth, so that preventive penicillin could be given right away. The study resulted in Congressional legislation to encourage and fund SCD screening programs nationwide. Within one year, forty states had begun screening programs. One of the most important conclusions of her work was the ease with which the complications of Sickle Cell Disease could be avoided with early treatment, a life-saving practice that became a central policy of the U.S. Public Health Service.

In 1990, Dr. Gaston went on to become director of the Bureau of Primary Health Care in the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the first African American woman to direct a public health service bureau, where she focused on improving health care services for poor and underserved families. She controlled a budget of $5 billion serving 12 million patients. When Dr. Gaston retired in 2001, her staff presented her with newly received data from prophylactic penicillin programs recently carried out in Africa, underscoring the worldwide impact of her work.

Her scientific achievements, as well as her ongoing commitment to improving the health of poor and minority Americans, have been recognized in many awards and honors, including every award given by the Public Health Service, and the most prestigious honor awarded by the National Medical Association—the NMA Scroll of Merit, in 1999. She also received the NMA's Lifetime Achievement Award, several honorary degrees, and is celebrated on "Marilyn Hughes Gaston Day" in Cincinnati and Lincoln Heights, Ohio. The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine has named a scholarship in her honor, giving full medical scholarships to two underprivileged minority students each year. The scholarships help other young people facing discrimination and financial hardship to pursue their own dreams of a career in medicine.

Changing the Face Of Medicine | Marilyn Hughes Gaston

Dr. Vivian Pinn - first female and first African-American woman Director of the Office of Research on Women's Health, National Institutes of Health

Medical director Vivian W. Pinn was born in 1941 in Halifax, Virginia. She grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia. Pinn received her B.A. degree from Wellesley College in 1963. She earned her M.D. degree from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 1967 where she was the only woman and only minority in her class. Pinn completed her residency in pathology at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1970 while also serving as a teaching fellow at the Harvard Medical School

In 1970, Pinn joined Tufts University as assistant professor of pathology in the School of Medicine and the Tufts New England Medical Center Hospital, with a concurrent appointment as the Assistant Dean for Student Affairs. In 1982, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she served as a professor as well as the third woman and first African American woman appointed to chair a department of pathology in the U.S. while at Howard University College of Medicine. Pinn became the first director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) in the Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1991. In February of 1994, she was named associate director for Research on Women’s Health at NIH. While there, Pinn completed a national initiative to reexamine priorities for the women’s health research agenda, as well as areas in need of research. This new strategic plan for the coming decade, Moving into the Future with New Dimensions and Strategies: a Vision for 2020 for Women’s Health Research, was presented publicly at the 2010 NIH Scientific Symposium and the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ORWH. She also served as co-chair of the NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers.

In 1989, Pinn was elected as president of the National Medical Association after serving in many other capacities including as Speaker of the House of Delegates and Trustee. The UVA School of Medicine established the Vivian W. Pinn Distinguished Lecture in Health Disparities, and further honored her in 2010 by naming one of its advisory colleges for medical students in her name, the Vivian Pinn College of UVA. In 2011, she received the Tufts University School of Medicine Dean’s Medal. Pinn was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Institute of Medicine. Pinn has also been elected as an Honorary Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, and received the Academy Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Health Policy.

Dr. Vivian Pinn's Biography. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Dr. Lonnie Bristow – First African-American President of the American Medical Association

In 1995, Lonnie Bristow, a board-certified doctor of internal medicine, became the first African American President of the American Medical Association (AMA) in its 148 year history.  Bristow, the son of Lonnie Harlis Bristow, a Baptist minister, and Vivian Wines Bristow, a nurse, grew up in Harlem, New York where he attended public schools and entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia at the age of sixteen where he played quarterback on the varsity football team.  He left Morehouse after two years, joined the U.S. Navy for four years and then received his bachelor’s degree from the City College of New York in 1953.  Bristow earned his M.D. from New York University in 1957.  Growing up seeing his mother work as a nurse encouraged his interest in the medical profession.  After completing medical school he established an internal medicine practice in San Pablo, California.

Bristow, who joined the AMA in 1970, served as an alternate delegate, a delegate, a member of the executive committee, and a member (and later chair) of the Board of Regents before being elected president of the 300,000 member association for 1995-1996.  His work as president focused on many of the issues he addressed throughout his career including sickle cell anemia, coronary care, and socio-economic issues impacting health care.  His goals included reforming the profession by expanding the range of care doctors give to their patients, putting patients’ needs ahead of monetary interests, and improving the doctor-patient relationship.  He also saw his election as president as highlighting the advances of African Americans in the medical field over the past 148 years of the AMA, including most of that period when black doctors were not allowed to join the organization.  African Americans were accepted for the first time in 1968.  Bristow also saw his work as a testimony to the role of education and hard work in generating acceptance.  He frequently addressed audiences of future medical professionals of various backgrounds, encouraging them to strive for excellence in their work in order to make their dreams of advancement realities.

One of Bristow’s goals as President of the AMA was to address the issue of ethics in the medical community, including implementing ethics courses and questions about ethics on medical licensing exams.  He also worked to encourage HIV/AIDS education at home and abroad.  He has honorary degrees from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Morehouse College School of Medicine, Wayne State University School of Medicine, and the City College of New York.

Bristow continues to be an advocate for diversity in the health care fields to encourage young people to explore various segments of the health care field.  He also continues his work as a consultant for various local and national organizations.

Miyamoto, M. (2010, November 22) Lonnie Bristow (1930- ). Retrieved from

Dr. Mark Colomb – Louisiana native; Professor, Sociologist and nation HIV/AIDS thought and capacity-building leader

Born in Lafayette, La. Dr. Colomb received his early and high school education in Lafayette Catholic schools. he earned a bachelor's degree from Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, La.; a master's degree in sociology, a specialist degree in education, and a doctoral degree in educational administration from Jackson State University. He completed post-doctoral training at Tulane and was certified by the Research Administrators Certification Council as a research administrator.

Dr. Colomb's distinguished career in the public health arena began as a graduate assistant with the Jackson State University National Alumni AIDS Prevention Project in 1988. Upon completion of his master's degree in 1992, he began working at the Mississippi State Department of Health, Division of STD/HIV, where he became a division branch director and served until 1999. Dr. Colomb joined the staff of Jackson State University as director and thus cultivated the development of the Mississippi Urban Research Center (MURC) where he served as project director/principal investigator for 13 federally- and state-funded projects from 1999-2003. He is credited with garnering more than $9 million, the largest of 12 five-year national grants awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2000. This funding established Jackson State University as a premier HIV/AIDS prevention training agency while serving as the lead entity for four regional organizations providing HIV/AIDS prevention training to African American community-based organizations throughout the U.S. and its territories. Dr. Colomb was also founder of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

Dr. Colomb played an integral role in shaping state and national HIV/AIDS policy legislation, particularly on behalf of African Americans, by working with a variety of constituents from grassroots advocacy groups to national legislative bodies.

Upon retirement from Jackson State University in 2003, Dr. Colomb worked to reduce health disparities and promote well-being in minority populations. As president and chief executive officer of My Brother's Keeper, Inc., a nonprofit organization. Dr. Colomb spearheaded funding from national organizations to conduct HIV/AIDS, heart disease, obesity, breast, cervical and prostate cancer, and childhood lead poisoning prevention education and services projects locally and nationally.

Dr. Colomb’s academic appointments included professorships (in sociology) at Jackson State University and Tougaloo College. He was a life member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.; and numerous social, professional and academic honor organizations, including, Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and Pi Lambda Theta International Honor Society and Professional Association in Education.

Dr. Helene Gayle - First African-American woman named director of the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control

Medical researcher and health care administrator Helene Gayle was born in Buffalo, New York on August 16, 1955.  Growing up in Buffalo, Gayle was surrounded in an atmosphere of compassion and generosity.  Her mother, Marietta, was a social worker, her father, Jacob, was a small business owner.  The family’s compassion was often expressed by the frequent trips to nursing homes to visit the elderly in their neighborhood community.  Although home life became unstable for Gayle because of her mother’s worsening mental illness and her parents’ divorce, Gayle knew she wanted to pursue a career which would allow her to help others.

Helene Gayle chose to enter the field of medicine.  She received a B.A. in psychology from Barnard College, an M.D. from the University in Pennsylvania, and a M.P.H. from Johns Hopkins University.  After finishing her studies and residency, Gayle took a position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1984, where she was able to combine medicine with social advocacy.  She also found a passion for working with international health programs during a trip to West Africa, where she assessed nutrition.  Gayle spent 20 years at CDC, most of which focused on working with HIV/AIDS.

In 2001 Gayle was offered a job at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which was beginning to put a greater focus on global health issues.  The Gates Foundation recruited Gayle because of her high level of experience with HIV/AIDS.  She became the director of the Gates Foundation’s HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health program.  Her success in developing this program led the organization CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere) to offer her the position of CEO in 2006.  Gayle became the first African American to head CARE. 

At CARE, Gayle is able to address the issues of social inequity around the world.  One of the first policies she focused on as CEO was the empowerment of women.  She is also working to find, understand, and solve the underlying causes of world poverty and inequity.  "We’ve moved very much from giving a person a fish, to teaching a person to fish, to actually figuring out why there are no fish in the stream to begin with," says Gayle.  Through her work at CARE Gayle has become highly esteemed and was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers” and one of Newsweek’s top ten “Women in Leadership.” 

In 2009 President Barack Obama appointed Gayle to chair the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.  Gayle accepted the position but continued as CEO at CARE.  As chair of the Council, Gayle is working to develop for the first time a national health policy in regard to HIV/AIDS. Gayle serves on multiple boards, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trsek, K. (2011, May 23) Helene Gayle (1955- ). Retrieved from


Friday, February 15, 2019

Protect your heart and celebrate #OurHearts during American Heart Month

By the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

Did you know that people who have close relationships at home, work or in their community tend to be healthier and live longer? One reason, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), is that we’re more successful meeting our health goals when we join forces with others. To underscore this point and mark American Heart Month this February, NHLBI is launching the #OurHearts movement, to inspire people to protect and strengthen their hearts with the support of others.

Here are some facts, how-to tips and resources to inspire you to join with others to improve your heart health. 

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. Most middle-aged people (90 to 95 percent) and young adults (75 to 80 percent) have one or more risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, or being a smoker or overweight. Having more than one risk factor increases your risk for heart disease much more than having just one.

Why reaching out is good

Having positive, close relationships and feeling connected with others benefits our overall health, including our blood pressure and weight. Having people in our lives who will motivate and care for us helps, but having feelings of closeness and companionship helps our health too.

Making the following heart-healthy lifestyle changes will be easier and more successful if you work with other motivated people:
  • Get physically active.
  • Achieve a healthy weight and maintain it.
  • Eat heart healthy foods.
  • Quit smoking.

Remember, you don’t have to make big changes all at once. Small steps will get you where you want to go. Here are some tips to get you going.

Move more

Invite family, friends, colleagues, or members of your community to join you in your efforts to be more physically active:
  • Ask a colleague to walk with you on a regular basis, put the date on both your calendars, and text or call to make sure you both show up.
  • Join an exercise class at your local community center and bring a neighbor along. Carpool to make it a regular date.
  • Grab your kids, put on some music and do jumping jacks, skip rope or just dance.
  • Make your social time active and encourage everyone—family and friends alike— to think of fun things that get you off the couch and moving.

If you have a health condition, including heart disease or high blood pressure, talk with your doctor before increasing your activity.

How much physical activity is enough? Aim for at least 2½ hours of physical activity each week — that’s just 30 minutes a day, five days a week. In addition, do muscle strengthening exercises two days a week. Can’t carve out a lot of time in your day? Don’t chuck your goal, chunk it! Try 10 or 15 minutes a few times a day. NHLBI’s Move More fact sheet provides ideas to get and keep you moving.

Aim for a healthy weight

If you’re overweight, find someone in your friend group, at work or in your family who also wants to lose weight. (Every little bit can help!) Check in with them regularly to stay motivated or join a weight loss program together. Do healthy activities together, like walking or playing on a neighborhood sports team, and share low-calorie, low-sodium meals or recipes. (Pregnant women should not try to lose weight, but they can exercise.)

Eating heart healthy

We tend to eat like our friends and family, so ask others close to you to join you in your effort to eat healthier. Need healthy eating ideas? Try NHLBI’s Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. It’s free and scientifically proven to lower blood pressure and improve blood cholesterol levels.

Quit smoking

To help you quit, ask others for support or join a support group. Research has shown that people are much more likely to quit if their spouse, friend or sibling does. Social support online can also help you quit. All states have quit lines with trained counselors — call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). You’ll find many free resources to help you quit, such as apps, a motivational text service, and a chat line at the websites and (Louisiana also offers help at

If you need extra motivation to quit, consider the health of your friends and family: Being around other people’s smoke, called secondhand smoke, is dangerous. Thousands of adult nonsmokers die of stroke, heart disease and lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke.

Visit #OurHearts for inspiration on what others around the country are doing together for their heart health. Then join the #OurHearts movement and let NHLBI know what you’re doing with friends, family, or others to have a healthy heart. Tag #OurHearts to share how you're being heart healthy together.

(For more tips on going tobacco free, healthy eating and active lifestyle, visit