FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 7, 2020
Contact: Sally Kerschner, VtPHA Secretary
Racism as a Public Health Issue focus of Vermont Public Health Association’s Annual Conference
Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila, Dr. John Brooklyn, Dr. Harry Chen, Barbara Cimaglio, and Beth Tanzman recognized as Public Health Champions
The Vermont Public Health Association (VtPHA) held its Annual Conference: Racism as a Public Health Issue, on Thursday, December 3, from 6 – 7:30 p.m. One hundred people attended the virtual conference.
Joyce Gallimore, VtPHA President said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the disparities that already exist. We seek equity in health care and health status through the initiatives of the VtPHA.”
Keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas, Pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Jericho, discussed the importance of improving quality of care among all communities regardless of race or income. He also discussed the challenges public health officials face in achieving health equity, and how these must be overcome to recognize the barriers people of color face in Vermont.
“The science of public health is required to assume and take the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of communities more seriously, to understand their environments and see how this impacts the overall health and wellbeing of the individuals in the community,” Rev. Dr. Thomas said. “It remains crucial that every public health professional approach African American residents of Vermont as individuals well aware of the history of inhospitable treatment by American’s public health institutions toward us as part of an overall structure of systemic racism against us.”
Rev. Dr. Thomas urged “public health education and employment generate proactive and assertive efforts to develop greater numbers of black and brown professionals so racial and ethnic communities may develop trust through practitioners who look like them and relate to their experiences.” He also urged the administration and practice of public health be pursued with the intent of providing affordable and quality health care as a right for all, rather than a privilege.
Lisa Carlson, the immediate past president of American Public Health Association (APHA) gave remarks on the challenges faced in 2020 in regards to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Racism is a public health crisis,” Carlson said. “People of color are disproportionally affected by COVID-19, we know that, but there’s a lot we don’t know because there’s a lack of reporting of race statistics, which contributes to our inability to really truly understand how this epidemic and pandemic is happening in communities of color. We know that systemic racism and bias in the healthcare system have long been factors, and they are certainly apparent in the pandemic.”
Melissa Alperin, immediate past chair of the APHA Council of Affiliates (CoA), spoke on the CoA’s purpose, which is to promote efficient and effective communication and coordinate affiliate and APHA activities. She shared a new CoA workgroup which will assist affiliates in addressing issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and racism.
At the end of the evening, VtPHA Board Members Dr. JoEllen Tarallo and Erin Flynn presented the Public Health Champion Individual Award and the Public Health Champion Team Award, respectively. The VtPHA’s Public Health Champion award is given each year to an individual and/or a team who has made extraordinary contributions to public health within the state of Vermont.
Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila was presented with the Public Health Champion Individual Award for her research documenting racial disparities in the State of Vermont in pursuit of equity.
“Thank you VtPHA for this recognition. I’m honored and humbled,” Dr. Avila said. “COVID-19 has resurfaced many inequities and racial disparities nationally and in our own state. … We have to engage in ongoing education and training about systemic issues in our society. We need to work with communities and not in communities, creating meaningful partnerships with historically underserved communities.”
For nearly two decades, Dr. Avila has demonstrated commitment to advancing health equity and addressing and eliminating health disparities by inspiring collaboration through strategic partnerships to create a culture of health in Vermont, working to expand community health workers and outreach to former refugee and immigrant communities in the state, and training more than 10,000 professionals across 27 states in understanding the connection between racial, gender, social, economic, educational, and health disparities and the role social determinants of health play in populations’ health outcomes.
Dr. John Brooklyn, Dr. Harry Chen, Barbara Cimaglio, and Beth Tanzman were presented with the Public Health Champion Team Award for their work supporting people in recovery for opioid use disorder in the State of Vermont.
The team was recognized for their design and implementation of the Hub and Spoke system of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). The program has shown significant positive impacts for MAT participants such as decreased opioid use and in injection drug use, decreased emergency department visits, and increased satisfaction with their own lives. The Vermont model for Hub and Spoke has been recognized nationally as an evidenced based program and has been replicated in several other states.
“The VtPHA recognizes and thanks all health care workers, volunteers and related professionals who care for and support others during the COVID -19 pandemic for their dedication, skill and selflessness. We know you are dedicated to helping others heal, survive and hopefully thrive,” Gallimore added.
The VtPHA is a statewide membership organization that seeks to positively influence the health of all Vermonters. The VtPHA does this by providing a strong, independent voice for public health in Vermont through advocacy, education, and community engagement, and by bringing together professionals, policymakers, and partners. Visit www.vtpha.org for more information.