Now that Americans are back to work after the July 4 holiday, it’s worth remembering that about 175 million people nationwide get their health coverage through an employer.
Americans spend 44.5 hours per week working, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s more than we spend doing anything else – even sleeping. And 92 percent of employers offer a workplace wellness program, according to a recent survey of HR professionals.
Paula Burkes is a business writer at The Oklahoman. She is attending Health Journalism 2013 on an AHCJ-Healthier Beat Fellowship, which is supported by The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.
Experts at Health Journalism 2013 in Boston said it can — and does.
Bad bosses can cause employees to lose sleep, while smoking blue-collar workers face the toughest challenge kicking their nicotine habits and the highest stress jobs are those that are highly psychologically demanding, but with little autonomy, they say.
In one Harvard School of Public Health study of nurses who work in nursing homes, those who had bosses with poor management skills on average got 30 minutes less sleep than those with good managers, said Cassandra Okechukwu, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social and behavioral services at Harvard. Continue reading →
Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.
On Friday, journalists learned from Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D., a demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics, that at age 65, life expectancy for the U.S. Hispanic population, despite a generally lower socio-economic status, is longer than for whites, something Arias called the “Hispanic Mortality Paradox.”
Arias also pointed out that tracking Hispanic health and death rates is problematic because the National Center for Health Statistics uses Medicare data which doesn’t allow for estimates of the Hispanic population. It wasn’t until 1980 that Social Security added Hispanic, Asian and American Indian to its application. But David V. Espino, M.D., a geriatric medicine expert who recently retired from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said Mexican Americans more likely to be disabled as they age than whites.
Julie Appleby, an AHCJ board member and a senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News, offered an overview of how the Affordable Care Act impacts immigrants and journalists learned that undocumented immigrants won’t be able to buy insurance through the health insurance exchanges, even using their own money.
Juan H. Flores, M.U.P., executive director of the La Fe Policy Center, pointed out that states and regions will respond differently to the needs of immigrants under the Affordable Care Act, just as they always have. He described Texas’ Medicaid program for adults as one of the most restrictive in the country, saying people have to be “destitute” to qualify.
Rodolfo Urby, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., medical director of the Southwest Texas Network, said federally qualified health centers would play a larger role in caring for immigrants.
In a discussion about the mental health needs of immigrants, Cervando Martinez Jr., M.D., a professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said that drug and alcohol abuse are uncommon in Mexico but occur among Mexican immigrants in the United States. Octavio N. Martinez Jr., M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., F.A.P.A., executive director of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, said that when officials cut the services for mental health, costs are just shifted elsewhere, such as the criminal justice system. Concern over their undocumented status can add to immigrants’ anxiety. So can stigmas attached to mental health care and, in particular, antidepressants.
Surprisingly, both speakers said many people in Texas go to Mexico for less expensive medical and dental care, and that there are many plastic surgeons just south of the border.
For a panel about workplace safety and health for immigrants, Karen Lee Ziner, a staff writer at The Providence (R.I.) Journal, described injuries immigrants suffered on the job. Jora Trang, managing attorney of Worksafe, said that 30 percent of immigrant workers in construction companies are not employees and so do not have rights and benefits. They tend to be less likely to report accidents for fear of retribution.
The final panel of the workshop, about special challenges in covering immigrant health, included a discussion about whether journalists should use the terms “undocumented immigrant” or “illegal immigrant” and moved to less-reported challenges.
After a long FOIA battle that ended with a federal lawsuit, Adam Finkel, former OSHA director of health standards programs for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (bio and contact information), has “acquired data on some three million samples, taken at about 75,000 locations from 1979 to 2009,” the Center for Public Integrity reports as part of its “Data Mine” series.
The air and “wipe” samples in question were taken to determine workplace exposure to toxic substances. Finkel plans to analyze this data “gold mine” and make it available to the public in an easily digestible format (a project for which he has already secured grant money). At some point, OSHA itself may do the same.
Asked if OSHA plans to make the sampling data public, agency spokeswoman Diana Petterson responded in an e-mail that “it is under consideration and must address certain concerns including the data integrity and the completeness of the data.” Finkel, who left OSHA after accusing the agency of failing to test its own inspectors for dangerous levels of beryllium, is skeptical. “They made it as hard as they possibly could,” he said. “This database is up to 30 years old, and they’ve shown no interest in making it accessible or doing anything useful with it internally.”
The Data Mine series, a collaboration between The Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation, will highlight inaccessible or poorly presented information from the federal government.
From the CIA to the CDC, we’ll be looking at data that needs to be public, with regular posts on the Center’s and Sunlight’s websites. We’ll describe each data set, as well as officials’ plans for putting it online – or not.
The piece’s strongest words come from Robert Whitmore, a former OSHA official who Stade says lost his job after speaking out against the agency’s lax standards.
“I contend that the current OSHA Injury and Illness information is inaccurate, due in part to wide scale underreporting by employers and OSHA’s willingness to accept these falsified numbers. There are many reasons why OSHA would accept these numbers, but one important institutional factor has dramatically affected the Agency since 1992, regardless of the political party in power: steady annual declines in the number of workplace injuries and illnesses make it appear that OSHA is fulfilling its mission.”
While advocating for Whitmore’s reinstatement, Stade admits the Obama administration has taken some important steps toward increasing OSHA accountability.
On September 30, 2009, OSHA initiated an “Illness and Injury Recordkeeping National Emphasis Program” that beefs up enforcement of industry reporting rules. It is designed to “test OSHA’s ability to effectively target establishments to identify under-recording of occupational injuries and illnesses”.