“These days we call ourselves the department of opportunity because housing is one of the tools that can spark great things in people’s lives,” U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro told U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy during yesterday's Monday General Session on the National Prevention Council.
The council, or a “crown jewel of the Affordable Care Act,” as APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin described it, is helping the country more fully embrace a health-in-all-policies approach. Indeed, the fact that the housing secretary was sharing the stage with our surgeon general perfectly illustrated how the council is bringing different agencies together to work toward a healthier nation.
In the housing arena, health-based efforts include those that reduce children’s exposure to lead-based paint, eliminate mold from housing units and encourage more housing communities to go smoke-free. Castro spoke excitedly about a pilot project he hopes gets funded in the near future that would give seniors in subsidized housing easier access to care.
Murthy first sat down with Castro for a friendly chat about the ways the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is helping put the National Prevention Strategy into action. Created by the National Prevention Council in 2011, The strategy aims to increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.
Making health happen in areas like housing and transportation — sectors that haven’t traditionally considered their impacts on health — depends on good leadership, Castro said. The former San Antonio mayor urged the Annual Meeting audience to be the squeaky wheel that advocates for important change.
“It makes a difference to have loud, effective advocates,” Castro said. “But you can’t just be loud. You also have to be effective and smart.” When the audience and Murthy laughed, he quickly added, “which all of you are.”
After Castro left the stage, but not before sharing a few more laughs and mutual compliments with Murthy, the nation’s top doc welcomed two more key public health figures who are working to make progress in prevention.
Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary for health affairs at the Department of Defense, reminded the audience to keep working together.
“It is about strong partners, both within government and out of government, that will win the day,” he said.
Partnerships are what help the DOD make progress with its Healthy Base Initiative. Part of Operation Live Well, the project works to promote active living, healthy eating habits and overall well-being among the military and their families.
When asked about her prevention perspective, APHA President Shiriki Kumanyika described herself a public health stakeholder, speaking from her role with Healthy People 2020 (she was the vice chair of the advisory committee that crafted that national vision for a healthier nation).
During her Healthy People 2020 work, she said she and other committee members talked a lot about aligning sectors that often have conflicting goals, such the agriculture and nutrition field. She agreed with Woodson's thoughts on partnerships, saying cooperation between the federal government, private sector and public health sector could help maximize the work of the National Prevention Council.
“I think we in the public health field have to act as ambassadors,” she said. That means conducting health impact assessments, providing technical assistance to those who want to work in the health sphere, and helping map where health is being impacted. We must remind the for-profit sector of their stake in addressing the social determinants of health, Shiriki said.
“An educated population, and a population with a humane living wage, has got to be good for everybody’s business,” Kumanyika said to a big nod from Murthy.
Murthy summed up the work of the National Prevention Council — as well as all those gathering in Chicago for the APHA Annual Meeting — when he mentioned a quote he uses often.
“Health is a river that runs through everything,” Murthy said just before escorting Kumanyika and Woodson off the stage. “The question is whether we choose to recognize it or not.”
Above from top to bottom: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, left, and U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro; Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary for health affairs at the Department of Defense; and APHA President Shiriki Kumanyika. Photos by Jim Ezell, courtesy EZ Event Photography