October 27, 2016 - Last week I had the opportunity to participate in Trust for America’s Health’s (TFAH) A Healthier America: Public Health Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress Forum. This event not only brought together an array of health experts to discuss what is – or should be – next in public health, but also marked the official release of TFAH’s Blueprint for a Healthier America report.
What really caught my attention before we even started was the diversity of panelists TFAH brought together. While I was there to discuss preparedness and health security efforts vital for the future of public health, I was joined by representatives from Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, the Environment Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). I couldn’t help but think that while each of our organizations clearly fell under the public health umbrella, we also don’t routinely find ourselves working alongside each other, attending the same meetings and sharing ideas with one another.
But as I reflected on the event and discussion later that day and in the days since, I was impressed and encouraged by TFAH’s ability to bring us all together. As I listened to the other panelists discuss the work of their organization and their respective goals and priorities for the next administration, I realized that when you think about the real intent and drive behind these priorities, our goals are incredibly paralleled. Rails-to-Trails seeks safe routes that connect people to important destinations, including healthcare. The Environment Section of APHA seeks to advance policies that reduce hazardous agents in the environment and protect communities. AAP works to advance policies and programs that protect and nurture the health of children. And public health and healthcare preparedness seeks to ensure public health is equipped to respond to all types of risks, from natural disasters to infectious diseases.
On the surface, it may seem that public health advocacy organizations are focused only on their own goals, in their ‘issue area,’ whether that’s infrastructure and transportation, the environment, children, or preparedness. But we are all seeking the same resources to help us achieve these goals – that is, high-level attention to our issue(s), increased investment, and a seat ‘at the table,’ And we are all seeking these resources, broadly, for the same goal of improving the individual and collective health of America. For example, when Rails-to-Trails’ Kevin Mills spoke about the need for strong infrastructure networks, I found myself nodding along, because strong infrastructure is essential for public health preparedness and response, too.
Moments and events like this illustrate that in public health – where we all have the same goal of a ‘healthier America’ – we have a better chance of achieving our individual goals when we incorporate those of others, both obvious partners as well as the not so obvious. That is also a critical component in achieving resiliency: working towards our goals in concert with one another, not independently. Including environmental health considerations in preparedness efforts, examining how infrastructure developments will impact children, etc. - the list goes on.
So of course the challenge is what do we do next? How do we capitalize on the realization or appreciation that our goals are more similar than we realize? I wish I had a step by step plan, but I think it starts with making an effort to get out of your traditional space. Go to that meeting that is open to the public. Read a report that’s from a different field. I commend TFAH for creating a forum that brought together such diverse perspectives, and look forward to considering how Healthcare Ready can create similar fora in the coming months.