Bouncing Beyond – Not Back: Empowering Local Communities to Tackle Adverse Health Events

Samantha Swamy

In a keynote address at a forum in Washington, D.C. on April 2 to launch National Public Health Week, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams reinforced the need for more partnerships between public health experts and the communities that they serve. “You’ll never hear me say as a public health advocate that we don’t want or need more funding,” he said. “You will never hear me say that we don’t need more expertise, that we don’t need more studies, that we don’t need more science. But we can have a tremendous impact if we focus less on what we don’t have, and focus more on better engaging partners.” Dr. Adams said understanding how local communities think and feel is key to addressing the public health issues that they face, referencing the book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures in North America. He drew on his experiences treating patients with diabetes, and told attendees how vital it is to show compassion in community interactions. “There’s a great saying: Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care. We have to engage people where they are, and show them that we care.”

The panel was moderated by American Public Health Association (APHA) President Dr. Joseph Telfair and included Dr. Wendy Ellis of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, Jen Schweer of Georgetown University, Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio of Families USA, and Alyse Sabina of the Aetna Foundation. APHA Executive Director and Research!America board member Dr. Georges Benjamin opened the program.

Addressing issues ranging from gender and racial equity to affordability and access to care, the panel discussed the goal of community resilience to adverse events such as the opioid and obesity epidemics.

“And when we say resilience, we don’t mean bouncing back from trauma to return to the same broken system,” Dr. Ellis clarified. “Instead, it’s springing forward to move beyond adverse environments.”

Panelists agreed that this could be accomplished not only through increased allocation of funds to address public health crises, but also by including the communities’ thoughts and opinions in public health efforts.

“Health does not happen inside of a doctor’s office or inside of the clinic,” added Hernandez-Cancio. “Health happens in communities.”

To watch the full video of Dr. Adams’ keynote address, click here: https://cs.pn/2EgMUXo

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Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco