Occupy Public Health? A Social Determinants Tea Party?

By Scott Burris

Kathy Ward is a veteran public health worker in Nebraska. She has a neat idea, which I summarize here in mostly her words:

Public health policy needs more proponents who are knowledgeable and able to express their positions freely. The shortage of advocates presents a danger for public health in a time of anti-government attitudes, uninformed public health policies, deficit reduction efforts, and looming budget cuts to the public health programs that protect our country.
A 2008 study by the Association of Schools of Public Health indicated that 23% of the current public health work force–almost 110,000 workers–will be eligible to retire by 2012. This generation of baby boomer public health workers has a high level of expertise in public health; passion for improving the public’s health; and strong partnerships with nonprofit, government, and private health organizations. They have the credibility to be effective spokespersons for public health and to influence its partners.
Why not use these assets to build a movement of public health advocates?

• Enlist national public health organizations such as ASTHO, the Chronic Disease Directors Association, and the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs in finding and enlisting public health advocates.
• Find advocates through similar organizations at state and local levels, such as state public health associations and nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.
• Build linkages with other national associations such as AARP. Consider public health in the broader sense, including in this effort retired Medicaid professionals who can knowledgeably describe the losses that will occur to the public from cutting Medicaid programs.
• Provide training in advocacy through webinars conducted with public interest lobbyists and health associations that employ advocacy staff

Sounds like a sensible idea to me. Mobilizing a lot of effective volunteers at a low cost. What do you think?

    2 thoughts on “Occupy Public Health? A Social Determinants Tea Party?

    1. Thank you to Scott for sharing this, and to Kathy Ward for her innovative idea. I think the last bullet in particular re: “advocacy training” is an underexplored area, and likely the source of several missed opportunities. I would love to see these advocates help us think about how we can effectively frame public health issues within the broader political debate (e.g., Oregon’s “Death with Dignity” instead of “deal panels”)?

    2. There are so many great opportunities ahead. It is awfully hard going now, but step back and consider that a lot of what we are trying to do is actually popular, and the main argument against is “we can’t afford it, and anyway government will mess it up.” That’s a deeply negative message. It has worked for a while now, but people are going to get tired of “no we can’t” — and that’s when we can be ready with an inclusive, non-partisan (and humble, self-critical) case for working together so we can all thrive.