The regulation of school nurses and the importance of transportation in public health outcomes are just some of the hot topics under study at the Network for Public Health Law’s Eastern Region headquarters, based at Maryland Carey Law in the Law & Health Care Program. The network is a national organization funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that aims to provide public health legal assistance and resources nationwide. It also connects officials on the local, tribal, state and federal levels, as well as public health providers, lawyers, lawmakers and advocates.
Kathleen Hoke, JD, is director of the Eastern Region as well as professor and director of the Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy at Maryland Carey Law. She works closely with Kerri Lowrey, JD, MPH, the network’s senior staff. Each region is funded by a grant from the Network for Public Health Law. The Eastern Region’s geographic territory spans from Maine to the north to West Virginia to the south. Each region of the network also serves as a national resource on certain specific topics, and the Eastern Region’s issues are injury prevention and safety, environmental public health and food safety.
The Eastern Region is planning a symposium May 9 with the help of the National Association of School Nurses.
“We’re focusing on making more efficient and effective use of school nurses to deliver preventive and other health care to children and adolescents,” Lowrey said. “School nurses sit in this unique place to be able to improve communication between the health care system and schools. We want to explore that.”
For example, some states have laws that govern how well school nurses can communicate with children’s other health care providers, Lowrey said. There also are ratio laws that regulate how many school nurses each district must employ based on its number of students. The network currently is conducting a 50-state survey examining issues like which states allow school nurses to bill Medicaid for their services, Lowrey added.
"We want to create a culture of health for children,” she explained. “It makes sense to start where kids are being educated. We want to focus on the importance of prevention and children taking care of themselves, identifying health problems when they’re young so they can be managed into adulthood, or identifying health disparities where kids might not have access to care.”
The network also is considering ways to connect with unexpected partners, such as transportation planning and development. The connections prevent duplication of efforts – if one jurisdiction is working on a certain problem, its findings can be shared with all network partners, according to Lowrey. In April, Lowrey and Hoke have planned a webinar “on transportation as a social determinant of health,” Lowrey said. “Transportation affects both access to health care and social well-being. It affects your ability to get out of your house, and it contributes to noise and air pollution.” The webinar will consider transportation planning issues such as the location of noisy, smelly bus depots in residential areas, and how to plan to enable walkability and bikability.
This work is typical of the network nationwide. The Eastern Region began at Maryland Carey Law in September 2010. Its second grant ends in May, when a third grant – still to be awarded – hopefully will begin. The grant funds part of the work of the Public Health Law Clinic, where students often help answering technical questions from state and local health department officials within the Eastern Region, Lowrey said. Recently, the network was asked about the legal issues surrounding providing pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, HIV prevention to minors, and whether a gathering of nurses could screen the film “Outbreak” without a license.
The network also works to provide public health educational collateral and making it available on the internet. For example, it has responded with information on emerging public health threats like the Zika virus and Ebola, as well as youth sports concussions.
“We want to be a free asset to anyone who is using law as a tool to protect and improve public health,” Lowrey said.