Kelli Donley Williams

It’s no secret that Dr. Paul Farmer is one of my public health heroes. He and his colleagues at Partners in Health helped transform the way international health programs are designed. From his perspective that community health workers should be paid a living wage, to fighting for patented drugs to be sold at cost to countries battling drug-resistant tuberculosis and HIV, Dr. Farmer brought humanity to humanitarian work. He loved being with people, whether that was rural Haiti, Peru, Cuba, or treating forgotten prisoners in Russian jails.

Last year, AzPHA members were invited to participate in reading “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” by Tracy Kidder. Kidder followed Dr. Farmer for months, traveling with him around the world to see first-hand how the Partners in Health approach to public health and international aid was saving lives. The book club brought together AzPHA members across Arizona, and included lively conversation about Dr. Farmer and our own challenges in public health system change.

Imagine my delight when one of the book club readers and AzPHA member, Jason Zibart, reached out recently to say the town of Benson was looking at access to behavioral health services differently as a result of Dr. Farmer’s work. Zibart was approached by town officials who’d seen the Netflix documentary about Partners in Health called, “Bending the Arc.” They recognized that students in their public schools and other citizens didn’t have adequate access to behavioral health services. They wanted this to change.

On Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023 Benson Unified School District announced the opening of The Sunshine House Project. A former church has been converted into a community behavioral health location and will offer a physical space for providers to meet with Benson residents and provide psycho-educational groups for students, parents and support personnel. This new access point will bring critical services to a rural corner of our state. Read more here.

Our thanks to Jason and others in Benson who made this possible. And always, our admiration and gratitude to the late Dr. Farmer and those at Partners in Health. His influence and ability to improve healthcare lives on.

Keep your eyes open for upcoming news about the 2023 AzPHA book club. We hope you’ll join us. It’s a great way to meet other members and to hear about great public health work happening in Arizona.

And finally, if you’re interested, Tracy Kidder has another great book out recently that may be of interest. “Rough Sleepers” follows the story of Dr. Jim O’Connell’s work bringing healthcare to unsheltered folks in Boston.