Wednesday, November 11, 2009

‘Public health is the voice of conscience’

Not surprisingly, this blogger felt like hibernating for a month when she woke up to the final day of her eighth APHA Annual Meeting. But upon walking into the Closing Session of the Philly meeting, I immediately felt that second wind take hold. People were excited…and the speakers more than delivered, talking about why we must all work together if we’re to become a healthier nation.

Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, took to the lectern first, telling the story of his journey as the son of immigrants coming to the United States. His parents, he said, insisted that their children have a “life of mission, a life of purpose and a life of service.” No wonder then that he entered the field of public health — a field he described so eloquently as “science in the service of society.” As we move forward in this age of health reform, Koh said, public health must make sure its compassionate voice stays front and center.

“Public health is the voice of conscience in the rat race of health care,” he said.

Yvette Roubideaux, new director at the Indian Health Service, reminded attendees that when it comes to health reform, the communities that she serves “face the same challenges as the rest of the U.S. health care system — we are in it with you.” And although Roubideaux said the current resources available to run IHS “clearly are not enough for us to sufficiently meet our mission,” more funding is not always the only answer to better health.

“The only way that we are going to improve the health of communities is to work in partnership with them,” Roubideaux said.

Next up, Mary Wakefield, new administrator of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, who described HRSA as being about the “business of eliminating health disparities.” Wakefield said one of her biggest priorities since filling HRSA’s top position has been bringing a public health perspective to the entire agency. HRSA, she said, is “open for business.”

“You at APHA are critical to achieving that end, you’re critical to achieving the mission of HRSA,” she said.

(And a funny side note: In a discussion on health reform, APHA’s Executive Director Georges Benjamin asked Wakefield and Roubideaux what they needed from audience members to accomplish the goals of reform. Wakefield’s answer? “Everything.”)

Let’s finish off the 2009 Annual Meeting with a quote from Benjamin (who, by the way, announced that this year’s meeting welcomed more than 12,000 — 12,000! — public health professionals.)

“Now’s the time for people to really band together,” he said. “Now’s the time you really need an association like the American Public Health Association.”

See you next year in Denver for APHA’s 138th Annual Meeting!

— K.K.

Above: HRSA Administrator Mary Wakefield, left, and IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux speak to Closing Session attendees. Photo courtesy Jim Ezell/EZ Event Photography


ritaskansie said...

Thanks for all the great coverage of the convention on the blog! EVen though I was not able to come to APHA this year, I really felt like I was there. Looking forward to Denver!

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