Grill Safe

by Kiran Sabharwal

From Fourth of July bashes to pool parties to backyard cookouts, July is full of opportunities to fire up the grill and gather around good food. This National Grilling Month, we sat down with RHHD Environmental Health Supervisor and Fourth-Of-July-Cookout-Expert Kirsten Dobson. Kirsten is one of the many folks at RHHD who inspects area restaurants. Between life on the job and at home with her family, she’s invested in making sure people stay safe when they eat.

Kirsten says it’s important to prepare and store food properly to eliminate pathogens and bacteria in raw proteins or refrigerated items, especially in hot temperatures outside. When you grill or eat outside, take it step-by-step:

First, cook all your non-proteins on the grill. Kirsten’s fun grilling rec? Try tossing an avocado on the grill alongside your corn or peppers!

Second, grill the burgers, chicken, and hot dogs. Cooking meats second prevents any contamination of vegetables and non-proteins.

Third, switch utensils as you “go from raw to ready-to-eat” and if you’re switching between proteins. Using the same tongs when you move raw meat to the grill and when you flip an almost cooked burger could contaminate the food. You can also clean utensils with a bleach and water solution.

Fourth, get your meat thermometer up and running! A probe thermometer that measures temperature internally will give you the most accurate reading. Different proteins need to be cooked to different temperatures in order to be safe.

Once you’ve successfully pulled your proteins off the grill, follow the Four Hour Rule with all food. Be sure to keep hot foods warm in a crockpot and refrigerated foods cold with ice. Any dishes left out for four hours should be thrown away to keep guests safe.

At your outdoor celebrations this season, be a food-safe host. Check out CDC’s Food Safety site for more summer grilling hints and guidelines to keep all your food party-ready!

Swim Safe

One solution for the heat? Take to the water! RHHD’s teams are promoting health by land and by…well, river, in our case.

The Environmental Health team inspects marinas and pools to make sure that the water we want to jump into all summer long is as safe as possible. Environmental Technical Specialist Jay LeReche has been conducting marina inspections for more than ten years at locations including Rocketts Landing,  Richmond Yacht Basin, and Kingsland Marina.

As someone who spends a lot of time on the James himself, Jay says that clean waterways boost tourism and keep residents active and connected to nature. We all have a part to play in keeping the James—and other water sources—safe:

  • I boat! Jay says each of Richmond and Henrico’s marinas have carefully inspected pump-out facilities that help boat owners dispose of sewage safely. You can also take steps to reduce waste that occurs during refueling or cleaning your boat—let’s keep paint chips and oils out of our river!
  • I fish! Did you know that the Department of Wildlife Resources has special recycling stations for getting rid of old fishing lines? Keep an eye out for these instead of throwing old line into the trash, which can impact wildlife and swimmers.
  • I prefer the pool! RHHD primarily inspects hotel pools, but Jay says anyone managing a pool can practice water safety by testing the water quality daily for pH levels and chlorine.

Whatever your preferred method of spending time near the water, you can benefit from more water safety tips at Healthy Swimming RVA.

Sweat safe

In Richmond, we’re gearing up for a weekend of moderate heat risk. On days with moderate heat risk, it’s okay for most people to spend some time outside. It might be a good day to avoid staying outside for long periods of time. If you’re more sensitive to heat because of your age or a health condition, you might plan more time inside.

How do we know how to plan? This year, we’ve got CDC’s HeatRisk dashboard, which helps you look at the week ahead and figure out how heat might impact your day-to-day life.

As we move into summer holidays, you can check the HeatRisk dashboard just like you would check the forecast for rain when making plans. On major or extreme heat risk days, you can reschedule outdoor events or spend more of your time in an air-conditioned public space, like a museum or a shopping center. There is also cooling refuge in locations across the region:

  • Richmond Department of Social Services Marshall Plaza: 900 E. Marshall St., Suite 160, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
  • Richmond Department of Social Services – Southside Plaza: 4100 Hull Street Road, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
  • Richmond Public Libraries (check individual locations for hours)
  • Henrico County Public Libraries (check individual locations for hours)
  • Henrico County Recreation facilities (call individual locations for hours)

GRTC bus service is zero-fare this summer and all GRTC buses are air-conditioned.

Extreme heat is a serious challenge that requires creative solutions of all sizes to keep our communities safe. We can start by staying informed and making the impacts of extreme heat visible thanks to the HeatRisk dashboard!

Tell your energy bill to chill out!   

Extreme heat doesn’t just cause serious heat-related illnesses. It can also be a pain for your monthly budget. The National Energy Association Directors Association estimates that this will be the most expensive summer yet for families trying to keep their homes cool.

Starting on June 15, Virginia’s Department of Social Services (DSS) will help eligible residents with cooling equipment purchases, repair, and/or bill payment. You can apply for state assistance by creating an account at CommonHelp online, by calling 855-635-4370, or visiting your local Department of Social Services. To learn more about the program and who is eligible, visit the DSS website.

When the temperature rises above 95 degrees, electric fans won’t actually cool the body, so AC is a necessity. In addition to exploring energy bill assistance, try out these strategies for reducing your utility bill during a hot summer:

  • Turn off lights and unplug equipment when you’re not using it. Not only will these habits help your wallet, they’ll keep your home a little cooler!
  • Close doors to unused rooms.
  • Cover windows with shades and curtains.
  • If your home doesn’t have AC, make plans to get out of the heat at air-conditioned community spaces! These might include Richmond or Henrico Public libraries, free museums like the Virginia Museum for Fine Arts, shopping centers, or community spaces like RHHD’s resource centers.

Stay tuned for more advice on beating the heat. And have questions about health and heat you want to see addressed in future newsletter editions? You can email RHHDpr@vdh.virginia.gov.

Liberation, equal access, and community health: RHHD celebrates Juneteenth 

Wednesday, June 19, marks the fourth federal observance of Juneteenth. Even before President Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, the day was a meaningful opportunity to reflect on a national history of enslavement and to celebrate emancipation—the news of which reached enslaved people in Texas in 1865, almost two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Health and well-being are important parts of modern Juneteenth celebrations. One advocate for a federal holiday was the Reverend Ronald V. Myers; in addition to his work in Washington, he was a practicing family doctor who worked to prevent infant mortality and chronic illness in rural Mississippi. This year at RHHD, we honor Dr. Myers’s legacy as our staff continues to link public health with freedom, equality, and justice. Here are a few of their reflections and calls to action:

Lorraine Wright, Violence Prevention Manager 

Access is one of the most important components of public health. If enslaved Texans had learned about the declaration of their freedom in 1863, Union soldiers would not have needed to make the trip to Galveston almost two-and-a half-years later. It’s not just that enslaved people didn’t know they were free—there was intentional withholding of information in order to maintain an exploited labor force of more than 250,000 enslaved people.

On Juneteenth, I encourage us to dig deeper and ask some important questions: How often are we the keepers of information, not because we are deserving of it, or even earned it, but just because we happened to have access to it? How often do we fail to share that information with others—intentionally or otherwise—even if we know it could support someone else on their road to liberation? Let us strive to learn Juneteenth’s critical lessons about access. My call to action is always going to be the same: you’ve got to leverage your sphere of influence. Together, we can create pathways to liberating resources like safe and permanent housing, addiction support, culturally relevant and engaging education, and empowering health information. That’s what it means to be public health!

Charelle Carr, Henrico Community Health Worker (CHW) 

Juneteenth reminds us that people spent years not knowing they were free. Knowledge and information help you make choices about where you’re headed next, and that’s a freedom. I tie that idea into public health a lot. There are resources and services out here that people don’t know about that could really help them, like VDH’s car seat programWIC support for expectant parents and little ones, or immunization appointments. When I was a young, single mother, I wanted my son (who is now a recent college graduate!) to have all the opportunities to make good decisions and be the best. So I know it can be hard to know where to find things that will enhance your child’s education on health.

Now it’s my job to bring these resources into communities! CHWs are the link between our different programs. We are in the community, we know the resources, or if we don’t have them yet, we know how to find them.

You can come meet the Henrico CHWs at our table during the Dorey Park Juneteenth celebration on Saturday, June 15. It’s going to be a great, family-oriented event. Being together and celebrating our African American communities reminds us that our ancestors had liberation—and we take that and move it forward. Stop by, say hello, and take a look at the resources we have to share!

Shaleetta Drawbaugh, Health Equity Fund Program Officer 

Juneteenth is a monumental event that asks us to hold in tension celebration, struggle, and hope. It is a reminder that we are not free until everyone is free!

Systemic racism, discrimination, and historical disenfranchisement continue to present threats to public health. I work with the Health Equity Fund (HEF), which invests in community led-projects that are filling gaps to improve health in communities experiencing deep disparities and the longstanding impacts of racism.

The HEF is accepting funding applications through June 23. Any community leader, program, or collaborative should feel empowered to apply! If you’re a small, grassroots, or fledgling organization—especially if you’ve experienced rejection—we hope you’re inspired to never give up. Be courageous and submit a HEF application to access critical, gap-filling funds. Funding can sustain your transformative work to eliminate health disparities. We want to partner with organizations and people undertaking transformative work to eliminate health disparities. Your efforts are seen and they matter!

Jasmine Carmichael, Community Health Assessment Coordinator  

To me, Juneteenth is a day to celebrate progress, change, and justice. I take this day to reflect on how we have flourished and prospered since the effective end of slavery. We have accomplished so much despite many societal challenges, and it’s really important to celebrate that!

In public health, Juneteenth presents an opportunity to hear the voices of those who have been impacted by systemic injustice and to consider the health disparities caused by those injustices. I view the Community Health Assessment (CHA) survey as one small step toward eradicating injustice. You can and should fill it out to express what you think should be improved in our communities. We take that feedback and create improvement plans to address those issues. That small step—rooted in careful listening—steers us toward confronting the bigger challenges in our communities.

“Show your welcome”: Richmond’s Multicultural Festival was June 8! 

Richmond’s Multicultural Festival: Imagine 2024 took place on Saturday, June 8. The annual event was cohosted by Richmond’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement and ReEstablish Richmond. Each year, it celebrates both National Immigrant Heritage Month and World Refugee Day 

“The Multicultural Festival is always an opportunity for newcomers and long-term residents to gather together in the same place to exchange information and culture,” says Kate Ayers, Executive Director of ReEstablish Richmond. In some cases, it is a newcomer’s first introduction to essential services in the community, including our local health departments and healthcare safety net services.” 

RHHD Community Health Worker Senior Elham Khairi says that the Multicultural Festival is one of the biggest events her team attends every year. Community Health Workers (CHWs) build relationships with residents to help with resource navigation and referrals, and they are always looking for opportunities to connect with new people. Elham staffed RHHD’s information table along with fellow CHW Maria Maldonado.  

The festival is especially important to Maria, who was volunteering there even before joining the CHW team. At the festival and beyond, Maria lives a life of community service and outreach. She worked in community organizing in Los Angeles before coming to Virginia. Here, she’s done important community outreach work through her church, as a radio program host for Radio Poder, and in her time on the janitorial staff for the Virginia State Police. Elham says that she hired Maria because she has the qualities of a true CHW: “A great community health worker is the person who is already a community health worker even without the title. They’re a trusted person who already connects and serves in the community, and they’re at the frontline of any issue that comes up.”  

Maria’s past experience with community health work and the Multicultural Festival made this year’s event a success!  

 

There were great, multilingual resources and support for newcomers.  

Organizations providing health information, legal services, community networking, and other kinds of support set up information tables for the first half of the day. Maria brought information about RHHD clinics, staying cool during extreme summer heat, and car seat classes. She also showed people how to schedule appointments for childhood vaccines or find primary care at places like CrossOver Healthcare Ministry. 

Maria works with many people who have busy work schedules or limited transportation. Some need healthcare support in a language other than English. As someone who arrived in the United States from El Salvador when she was 15, she knows that, for newcomers, these barriers can make it hard to find, schedule, and keep health appointments. Working through these barriers is her favorite part of her job: “I love seeing people get involved in their health and get connected to healthcare.” 

For Maria, healthcare includes important vaccinations for children and mental health resources, which she says are especially important for people navigating a big transition from life in one country to another. “Sometimes, people think these things will cost a lot of money, but there are programs that can help people for free,” Maria says. “I tell people what to bring so that clinics can evaluate your economic status and go forward from there.” 

 

The festival let us all learn from each other and create more welcoming communities.  

One thing Maria notices is that people don’t always understand the differences between immigrant, migrant, parolee, refugee, and asylum-seeking populations, who enter the United States in different ways and have to work through different policies and requirements once they arrive. “Even as part of an immigrant community, I get confused with the different words, too!” she says. “It’s important to know that people arrive in different ways but that they are all here. We need more shared information.”  

Elham says her team is intentional about partnering with events that create healing and wellness through community connections—the festival’s focus on multiculturalism does just that: “The goal is to break isolation and to change the narrative, especially negative narratives about immigrants and migrants. When we meet and get know each other, then we can create connection, change narratives, and create space for peaceful co-existence.” Elham also notes that the name is more inclusive of other cultures, including indigenous communities and Black populations in the U.S. Learn about other traditions, foods, and communities in this fun and inclusive way is “care in action,” she says.  

 

It was fun!  

“If you don’t have a budget to travel this summer, this was a way to visit the many, many, many providers from multiple countries and take a trip around the world!” Elham says. She and Maria met new people, said hello to some pets, danced to good music, and tried lots of delicious food.  

 

The festival was just the start. 

Elham and Maria hope that the event is only the beginning of meaningful relationships between CHWs, festival residents, and our broader communities. Here are some ways to stay connected:  

  • RHHD runs a newcomer clinic for people going through the resettlement process. 
  • If you want to volunteer and support newcomers learning English, navigating transportation, or working toward employment opportunities, Maria and Elham recommend ReEstablish Richmond as a place to start.  
  • If your organization hosts events and would like a RHHD team member to attend with health information, please fill out this request form!   

Our team is already counting down the days to next year’s festival—hope to see you there!

Health equity and heat 

by Kiran Sabharwal

As the summer heats up, we’ll all be looking for shade. But finding a cool spot beneath a tree in Richmond and Henrico can be trickier in some neighborhoods than others. Not only do neighborhoods with fewer trees have less shade to cool off, higher temperatures in these neighborhoods lead to more heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. High temperatures can also impact chronic health conditions.

Tree canopy cover looks different across our communities. Explore the Tree Equity Score National Explorer to see more maps like this one.

During hot summer months, these areas can experience even more extreme temperatures because of the urban heat island effect. Urban heat island effect means that areas built with lots of dark pavement and little tree cover are hotter than shaded areas. Communities in Richmond and Henrico that historically experienced housing discrimination such as redlining in the 1930s see far hotter temperatures than neighborhoods elsewhere in the city today.

How does tree cover shape health? The way that neighborhoods are designed, from tree cover to public transportation access and green space availability, is an important social determinant of health. The inequitable distribution of tree cover across Richmond and Henrico deepens health inequities already in place in our communities.

Urban heat island effect is like a positive feedback loop; while many people can cool off at home, folks struggling with housing insecurity or expensive energy bills may need to look for public places to cool off, like libraries or public pools. For residents who do not own a car, walking or riding the bus might be their only option, but they may be exposed to extreme temperatures while waiting at an unsheltered bus stop.

What do next steps look like? The City of Richmond is getting ready to create an Urban Forestry Master Plan, and residents can stay tuned for upcoming opportunities to help cool the hottest parts of the city. Meanwhile, Henrico County is working on reforestation efforts at county parks. You can also check out organizations like Southside ReLeaf and Groundwork RVA that are working to increase tree cover in our area.

Pride and Public Health

In addition to Immigrant Heritage Month, June is also Pride Month! It’s an important month for both public health and health equity. Ginger Lee writes that “The LGBTQ community has endured systemic and legally sanctioned discrimination, shaming by institutions and systems, shunning by families of origin, the HIV epidemic, and being targeted for brutality and violence because of who LGBTQ people love or how they express their gender. Because many LGBTQ people are also people of color, stressors and conditions known to negatively affect health are often multiplied.”

Public health has an opportunity to address negative health outcomes and to support all community members in living healthy lives. Health Educator Bellamy Riley says that public health measures—like getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases—can be a meaningful part of celebrating Pride: “In a season all about loving and embracing who you are and finding beautiful community, getting tested can feel like one more way of affirming yourself and your right to good health, good sex, and peace of mind. Taking care of your sexual health is both self-care and community care.”

This month, keep an eye out for our health educators at community Pride events—they’ll be distributing information and even some swag! You can also check out our website to learn more about STI/HIV testing opportunities.

RHHD Health Educators Bellamy Riley and Darcy Strayer celebrate Pride at Richmond’s Recovery PrideFest.
At Pride events, health educators hand out information about STI testing—and fun swag!

Get to know RHHD’s Health Equity Specialist: Cameron Foster

Cameron wins Best Dressed at RHHD! 
His shirt has images of his beloved dog, Biscuit. 

In May, RHHD welcomed a new Health Equity Specialist to our team! Cameron Foster joins us after working for the VDH Central Office as a COVID-19 investigator and vulnerable population data analyst. Cameron has a master’s in public health from Eastern Virginia Medical School and an MBA from William & Mary. He talked to us about his understanding of and hopes for this new job!

How do you think about health equity?  

A lot of people understand the main idea of health equity and why it’s important, but it’s like any big reform movement—what does it look like in practice? I try to move from the idea to action.

I break health equity down into things people can understand. Let’s think about access, for example. Are people able to find a primary care provider who takes their insurance, or who they can reach through public transportation? Do they have time to take off work to go? Are there even enough providers in the area?

What did your experiences in school and other jobs teach you about health equity?   

COVID-19 investigation was very rewarding work but also very draining work, simply because you’d be calling people at some of their worst moments. And you’d see the inequities. Take when the pandemic first started and we sent school children home with a laptop or tablet to complete work virtually. If the child didn’t have access to high-speed internet, that laptop was just a paperweight—there was no way to complete assignments.

Or if you couldn’t physically get to a location participating in the COVID-19 rollout, what good was the vaccine for you? We really needed these vaccine drives that came out to individuals at nursing homes or congregant settings like prisons to ensure that treatment was given equitably and to as many people as possible.

I also noticed inequities through academic pathways. Living in Williamsburg, I was on Medicaid because you can apply for it as a grad student, and it was very difficult for me to get treatment—there weren’t as many providers taking Medicaid. I’ve also worked as a medical assistant and a medical office administrator at a private practice. It was heartbreaking to see individuals take time out of their day to come in, and then you’d find out that insurance doesn’t cover the treatment or medication that they needed.

What are your plans for bringing more conversations about health equity to RHHD?  

It’s always good to have somebody in the room looking at challenges from a different perspective. I’m not able to examine something from every perspective, but it’s my job to find and support the people who do have those fresh perspectives. This summer, I’m going to restart RHHD’s internal equity groups. Each internal equity group is focused on a specific community or group of people—these have included groups focused on LGBTQ+ populations, Latinx and Hispanic communities, people who have experience with substance use, Black and African American populations, youth, and populations living with disabilities. What I really want is for those groups to brainstorm and propose the direction of the work. It’s important to build equity internally so that we can develop it externally—it’s a practice what you preach model.

Finally, what are you watching, reading, or listening to right now?
I’m currently making my way through the Godfather trilogy, and I just finished The Risk it Takes to Bloom by Raquel Willis. Willis is a Black trans woman who writes about the journey she takes to discover herself in the context of national events like the tragic Pulse night club shooting. Unfortunately, Black trans women often get pushed to the margins—in 2017, Willis was giving a speech at the Women’s March that was cut halfway through. Watching her share her experience of figuring out her sexual orientation and gender identity was really powerful.

Welcome to RHHD, Cameron—we’re glad you’re here!

Extreme Heat

Summer 2024 is shaping up to be a warm one, and here at RHHD, we know that extreme heat is a public health issue. In Virginia, more people receive care for heat-related illnesses when the temperatures climb to 86 degrees and higher—and we’re already seeing those kinds of temperatures.

The first step to protect yourself and your loved ones against heat-related illness is knowing when to take action. You can begin tracking extreme heat through the National Weather Service’s HeatRisk mapping tool. Knowing a few key terms will help you respond to extreme heat as it takes effect:

  • Heat Index: Our bodies get warmer the more humid it is, so the heat index measures both air temperature and relative humidity.
  • Excessive Heat Outlooks: Issued by the National Weather Service when the potential exists for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days.
  • Excessive Heat Watches: Issued by the National Weather Service when conditions are favorable for an excessive heat in the next 24 to 72 hours.
  • Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories: Issued by the National Weather Service when an excessive heat is expected in the next 36 hours.

Paying attention to both the temperature and the heat index will help you make healthy decisions as our days get warmer and warmer. And keep an eye on this newsletter for heat-related advice all summer long.