Thursday, June 16, 2011

National Prevention Strategy mirrors efforts in Baltimore to improve health outcomes, eliminate disparities

Today I had the pleasure of taking part in a stakeholder panel discussion as part of the release of the National Prevention Strategy. I was representing the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the group that represents the nation’s more than 2,800 local public health departments.
These city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote the health and well-being of all people in their communities.

Local health departments are essential to seeing that the strategic directions and priorities of this Strategy result in improved health outcomes. The central role for local health departments will be to do what we do best: Emphasize preventive and quality health care, expand access to care for all populations and engage communities.

In Baltimore City there is a 20 year gap in life expectancy between 2 neighborhoods less than 5 miles apart. Statistics like these give great urgency to the work we do to improve the health of our city, our neighborhoods and our residents. That’s why in April, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and I released Healthy Baltimore 2015, an aggressive plan for improving health outcomes and eliminating health disparities.

Healthy Baltimore 2015 highlights 10 priority areas for action that account for the greatest morbidity and mortality in Baltimore City.  These priority areas mirror the National Prevention Strategy. Within each of the 10 areas, we identified aggressive benchmarks for improvement because they help to set the level of urgency in addressing ongoing disparities and inequities. 

In addition to reporting citywide data for each of the leading indicators, we include the greatest subgroup disparities.  In some indicators this is based on race, but in other indicators the greatest disparities are based on gender, educational attainment or income.

Our leading indicators go beyond traditional health measures and explore the root causes that tend to drive health inequities such as access to healthy foods, liquor outlet density and vacant building density.

We’re adopting a health in all policies approach because it’s clear that addressing these long-standing inequities can no longer be accomplished via traditional medical models or even traditional public health models. We’ve convened a cross-agency health task force that has senior level representation from all city agencies. 

Our job will be to look at what each agency is currently doing in service of HB2015 and what we can do above and beyond. We’re working with Hopkins School of Public Health to develop evaluation metrics to determine what difference this process makes on the ground.

We’ve also convened a similar group for our clinical providers.

Lastly, we have an innovative private public partnership aimed at reducing disparities in access to healthy foods. It’s our virtual supermarket known as Baltimarket.

The National Prevention Strategy represents an unprecedented commitment by the Obama Administration to the idea that prevention of illness and disease should be a national goal, not just for those of us in the health field, but for every sector of society that touches people’s lives. I stand with other local health departments in applauding federal government leaders represented here today for recognizing that improving the quality of life for all Americans needs to incorporate the influences of where we live, learn, work and play.

Have you had a chance to look at the Strategy? What are your initial thoughts? How can we all work together more efficiently to achieve these goals?

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