Soma Stout and Linda Goler Blount

Soma Stout, right, with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and Linda Goler Blount, with Black Women’s Health Imperative, participate in the National Public Health Week forum. Photo by David Fouse

Affordable housing. Livable wages. Safe communities.

Public health experts discussed an array of issues critical to making the U.S. the healthiest nation Monday during a kick-off forum for National Public Health Week in Washington, D.C.

In keynote remarks, Gail Christopher, DN, vice president for policy and senior advisor at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, applauded this year’s NPHW theme: Healthiest Nation 2030. She called it an ambitious goal that compels us to support policies that are not traditionally considered health policies.

She said that the goal requires that we “stand up for policies that are necessary for well-being” which extend far beyond a doctor’s office or traditional health care setting.

“We have to create the conditions that allow for health and well-being,” Christopher said.

Christopher pointed to education, employment and housing as some of the biggest drivers of poor health. She added that racism is another critical issue, and that tackling unconscious bias is a necessary component to getting us to be the healthiest nation.

Christopher recalled the recent Ebola outbreak. She said we heard more about public health during that crisis than we have in the past 10 years, and we experienced only two Ebola-related deaths in the U.S.

In contrast, gun violence kills 85 people each day, with little public outcry.

“A violent nation cannot be a healthy nation,” she argued.

Health leaders continued the conversation during a panel discussion moderated by APHA President Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, addressing a wide range of social determinants of health from job creation to reducing recidivism rates for those in the criminal justice system.

Soma Stout, MD, MS, executive external lead for health improvement at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, pointed out that the Affordable Care Act has encouraged a shift in how we provide for health in this country. She added that a huge part of the ACA is ensuring that health providers “are actually paid to keep people healthy,” not just deliver a service.

“When you look at what creates costs, it’s not medical determinants, it’s the social determinants,” she said.

Other panelists included Tom Farley, MD, MPH, CEO of The Public Good Projects and former health commissioner of New York City; and Linda Goler Blount, MPH, president and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative.

An archived webcast of the kick-off program, organized by APHA, will be available online soon.

National Public Health Week celebrations continue today. The fifth annual NPHW Twitter Chat will be held Wednesday, April 8, at 2 p.m. EDT. Follow #NPHWchat to join.