As I speak to corporate and organizational leaders around the country that operate outside of the public health sector, it is clear that the nation’s innovators switch from being innovative to being linear thinkers the second I mention the word health.
They struggle to understand -- and at times they outright reject -- the idea that health is actually produced by society and that regardless of their sector, they play a role in that production. For public health, this one-dimensional approach to health is the death knell to multi-sector solutions to the nation’s public health problems.
Years ago we use to say that we needed to give communities and other sectors a seat at “the table” of public health. The truth is that the public health “table” is actually in a conference room in Silicon Valley where they are discussing workforce diversity. The “table” is at the county board of education meeting where they are rethinking a policy regarding student discipline. The “table” is at the community meeting where developers present their plans to build a retail and entertainment complex that will create 1,000 jobs, displace 200 families, and eliminate 1,700 trees. “The table” is in the boardroom of a major retailer that has decided to create family-friendly work environments with the addition of breastfeeding rooms and onsite child care centers. “The table” is at the department of public works where they are increasing lighting on walking paths between train stations and the surrounding neighborhoods.
To improve the public’s health, Public Health has to find seats at the real “tables.” Once seated, we have to observe and learn from innovators in other sectors. We need to master their language and understand their bottom line, their agenda, what drives them. Then and only then can we begin to share the message of public health in ways that are meaningful and relevant to this “lay public health workforce.”
The concept of “the table” has been a part of CommonHealth ACTION since its inception; when Vinny (Vincent Lafronza) and I sat at my kitchen table envisioning ways to embody so many dreams and ideas. They were a reflection of the wisdom of our elders and communities that allowed us to be students of their realities. Ten years later, CommonHealth ACTION continues to dream and to have new ideas about what we can do to contribute to the production of the public’s health.
You will notice that in honor of our 10th Anniversary we have a refreshed logo. The logo has five elements linked together; each one is a different color. Those elements are people. They are communities. They are sectors. They are policies. They are the interactions and interplay of enumerable factors that create the conditions within which we live our lives and make our decisions. They are the determinants of health, equity, well-being, and quality of life. They represent the interconnectedness that makes American society great and at the same time calls upon all of us to understand that the nation’s greatest production is the health of its people.
As we mark our 10th year, CommonHealth ACTION will continue to seek and fill seats at new tables, participating in unexpected conversations, exchanging knowledge, and steadfastly looking for ways to ensure that all people achieve their best possible health.
Be Healthy. Stay Well.