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Valdes Lupi: ELPH leaders show how to work with community partners to protect health

Health

No matter what the situation is, sometimes it’s just good to know you are not alone. Each month, I look forward to joining bi-weekly calls that we have with teams from our Emerging Leaders in Public Health Initiative (ELPH) initiative. Over the last 22 months, these calls have provided time for peer-to-peer learning and in some instances, just-in-time sessions with external speakers and organizations on topics such as crisis communications and public health law and governance.

With so many pressing demands on their time, particularly during the pandemic, we can never predict how many of our ELPH teams will be on the call. But it really isn’t about the number of people that join – it’s about the quality of the discussions and genuine collegiality, respect and grace that they share with one another that makes each call special. Having been on the other side of these calls as a member of the second ELPH cohort, I know that one of the most valuable aspects of the initiative was learning from others about different strategies and approaches they were using to address health inequities and navigate complicated relationships in their respective cities and counties.

It didn’t matter whether the advice or examples were coming from a large, urban health department like the one I led in Boston or a small rural health department in the southwest. It truly was the diversity and creativity of the different approaches that made our calls and in-person convenings so rewarding. We were all in it together with a singular focus on improving health for those communities that had long suffered from unequal access to health services, opportunities for economic mobility, safe and affordable housing and a host of other barriers.

It’s an understatement to say that these are challenging times for public health leaders around the country. Threats and harassment have become far too common, impacting the future of the field and our ability to build a more robust and sustainable public health system that protects all communities.

But there are bright spots. On a recent call, three ELPH leaders from New Hampshire, Florida and Texas presented ways they effectively worked and made progress with community partners across the political spectrum. Although they led health departments in very different political environments, it was clear that they had fully assumed the role of “Chief Health Strategist” and knew exactly how to navigate in extremely challenging political conditions. One of the presenters shared “if you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.” Another colleague described how “change moved at the speed of trust” and luckily for them, they had developed trusting relationships with their partners long before COVID, which was a key ingredient that allowed them to collaborate much more effectively during the pandemic.

The reality is that public health professionals have been and continue to lead during extremely political times. While our nation has a long road ahead to rebuild and staff up the next generation of public health leaders, I’m forever grateful for our fearless ELPH teams and public health practitioners at all levels of government – tribal, local, state and federal – who work tirelessly to keep us safe. Thank you also to the community-based workforce of public health professionals who’ve served as extensions of health departments as promotoras and community health workers. These individuals work alongside many local health departments as trusted, cultural brokers who bridge the divide between government and the people on the ground.

Amidst harsh political realities and at times harrowing situations, we are better off because of public health professionals’ unwavering commitment to protect, promote and preserve health for everyone. On Public Health Thank You Day and every day, please take time to thank them for all that they do.

Kresge staff is working remotely, and our offices are closed until further notice.  See our promise to partners during COVID-19.
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