Contribution from AzPHA Member Jason Zibart

The last few weeks have been tough for both healthcare and public health professionals, and it comes on top of everything we have experienced over the last two years. We have all seen the court rulings and policy shifts. We know how these shifts will likely impact the health of Americans.

Over the last few days professional societies have been voicing their concerns. One of these societies is of particular interest. The American Medical Association has endorsed voting as a social determinate of health. They have also released a roadmap for improving racial justice and advancing health equity. These recent moves were no accident. As public health professionals we should consider how we can partner with and support our healthcare professional colleagues.

As professions public health and medicine have not always had the same goals, nor have they always effectively collaborated for the greater good. Today that isn’t always true. Healthcare providers have started taking more and more interest in the social determinants of health. That interest is being driven by healthcare professionals that are tired of seeing patients that have issues beyond the ability of prescriptions and procedures to fix. That is where Dr. Alister Martin came on the scene.

If you go to the Vot-ER website you will find the following statement. “Dr. Alister Martin is a practicing emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. Like so many nurses, social workers, medical students, and doctors across America, he goes to work every day knowing he’ll meet people he can’t help through medical care alone. There aren’t prescriptions or procedures to fix homelessness, hunger, illiteracy, joblessness, or violence—the larger forces responsible for many people’s poor health and reliance on emergency rooms and community health centers.”

To try and make a difference on those social determinants of health issues Dr. Martin founded Vot-ER and the Civic Health Fellowship. Why? Because when it comes to SDOH issues, there is one simple thing healthcare providers can do to help their patients and change outcomes.

They help patients register to vote. The program does not endorse political parties or individual candidates. They just help people register to vote. To that end many Vot-ER Civic Health Fellows were involved in the AMA endorsement recognizing voting as a social determinant of health issue.

Why does all this matter to public health professionals? Because it’s our mission, right? Homelessness, hunger, illiteracy, joblessness, and violence are all within the base of the health impact pyramid. Addressing these issues through policy shifts has the best chance at making the largest impact on the health of our communities. Healthcare organizations generally have more interaction with people on a day-to-day basis than public health organizations. This puts them perfectly positioned to address an issue like voter registration.

How can we support this movement among healthcare professionals? Reach out to your contacts and introduce them to Vot-ER and the work happening all over the country. Show them that change is happening and encourage them to be part of it. Support them in an attempt to permanently bridge the divide between public health and healthcare.

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have!