Aletha Maybank, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Sandra Witt, Lili Farhang

Transforming Public Health: Building Belonging

By: Ethan Floyd

The breakout session "Transforming Public Health: Building Belonging” featured several leaders in the field of public health and equity who discussed innovative ways to include belonging in public health decisions and services. The speakers, Sandra Witt, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Dr. Aletha Maybank, and Lili Farhang, each added different perspectives to the presentation and stressed the importance of working together to achieve critical goals.

The main objective of the event was to illustrate the different ways in which public health has evolved over time. For example, there was a time where America’s public health system primarily benefitted white males as opposed to other members of our society. Today, there are models that aim to provide access to a multitude of people.

Secondarily, the presenters hoped to inspire the audience to think of creative ways to build a model where public health is at the forefront of governmental decision-making. One panelist suggested modifying health departments into agencies that are less risk-averse and instead keen on confronting the root causes of health equity issues facing our society, namely racism and systemic othering. However, there are ways to do this that aren’t currently being tried, including sharing decision-making and power with communities, tackling issues such as gentrification and displacement, incarceration, immigration, and holding government agencies accountable to their actions.

Several interesting questions arose from the 60-person audience, including one question on the potential impacts that the national level of health equity could have on the local level of health equity. Contrary to what may be the most intuitive answer, the panelists actually posited that the national climate in regards to health equity may not have as serious of an impact on the decisions of local health policy makers. One example named was Michigan, which was identified progressive when it came to health equity practices in spite of the current state of our national administration.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the presentation is that there are numerous methods to pursue a health agenda where everyone belongs. Health is not something that belongs to any one group or person, therefore the fight for health equity should not fall on the shoulders of any one person or group. It’s in all of our hands to make health access on all levels an achievable goal.

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