Deborah Levine, MPH, recently joined the Quality Institute as a Community Health Associate. She talked to Symptoms & Cures about her new role.
Tell us about your background?
I received my Masters in Public Health from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health with a certificate in health policy analysis. Following my graduation, I moved back to New Jersey, my home state, to take a position at the Center for Health Care Strategies, Inc., where I worked on several initiatives related to integrating care for individuals dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. I joined the Quality Institute to learn more about health initiatives at the community level.
What have you been doing as an associate?
I have been working closely with Janan Dave on the Mayors Wellness Campaign, the Healthy Communities create Healthy Citizens (HCHC) project, and Conversation of a Lifetime. Through HCHC, which is funded by a three-year partnership grant from the United Health Foundation, I have started getting to know our three partner municipalities — Jersey City, Trenton and Cumberland County — and how we can support them in their efforts to promote health and wellness.
How do you figure out what a community really needs to improve the health of citizens?
We approach community health from the perspective of looking at how we can support existing efforts, and promote ideas that have been successful elsewhere. Our approach can vary based on our different projects. Through HCHC we referenced Community Health Needs Assessments to identify common health needs in our three partner municipalities. Likewise, through the Mayors Wellness Campaign, we encourage participating towns to create Wellness Committees to identify a community’s specific needs as a group.
You have over 370 towns in the Mayors Wellness Campaign. What has the campaign learned?
We have learned that regardless of a town’s resources, they are all able to be creative in finding ways to support the health of their residents. For example, Beachwood, one of our Healthy Town Award winners for 2015, hosts beach yoga and other exercise classes in public spaces. Other towns host walks with their Mayors. It is impressive to watch the resourcefulness and creativity of New Jersey towns, their leadership, and most importantly their volunteers.
Do we underestimate the impact that the community around us has on our health?
Through my work on the Mayors Wellness Campaign and on the HCHC project, I have found that individuals and community leaders understand the health implications of a community’s structure very well. The availability of resources —playground space, funds to hire a health officer, or additional shelf space in a corner store — can be limited. Yet community leaders have creative ways of making health and wellness opportunities available to their residents, even when resources are tight. For example, Mayors Wellness Campaign towns have partnered with other local towns to host health fairs and they often host no-to-low cost initiatives in public spaces, all to support residents who may face daily health challenges due to the structure of their communities.