It’s easy to be fixated by the rearview of past accomplishments, but the Detroit Health Department is determined to press forward, while building upon those many successes and forging ahead to what could be an even brighter tomorrow.
For example, the Detroit Health Department spearheaded a very productive 2018, which included the launch of SisterFriends, supporting over 400 pregnant mothers in the city with mentors from the community; important programs focused on maternal and infant health; iDecide, a program which provides reproductive options (and info) for teens.
Now, the Detroit Health Department is focusing on bringing those efforts forward, while expanding the net by encouraging – and fostering – valuable strategic partnerships. Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, director and health officer for the Detroit Health Department is helping to guide these initiatives. Now in her second year in this role, Khaldun outlines some things in store for 2019 and beyond.
“Some of the great successes we’ve had over past couple of years have really been our efforts and programs focused on maternal and infant health, (with) the launch of SisterFriends, supporting over 400 pregnant mothers in the city with mentors from the community and services they need to have a healthy baby,” Khaldun says. SisterFriends Detroit is an initiative provided by the Detroit Health Department that connects caring and compassionate mentors (SisterFriends) to pregnant women (Little Sisters) who live in the City of Detroit. The ultimate goal of the program is to reduce the infant mortality rate and also to connect pregnant women to a person who can provide social support throughout their pregnancy.
Even though the number of participants is growing, Khaldun notes that there’s still plenty of time to join in the effort. “We still need more SisterFriends,” she says. “We’re still looking for volunteers – all you have to do is care and touch base with your Little sister once a week to come and support our mothers and families.” In a way, SisterFriends is a partnership between women, but more than this, the Detroit Health Department is also fostering other partnerships on a wider scale.
When it comes to partnerships, Khaldun adds, it’s important for people to understand that public health is not simply contingent upon the efforts of the Health Department. “There’s so many other partners that are critical to health improvement in the communities whether it’s schools, businesses, academic institutions, community organizations, and most importantly, the residents,” Khaldun says.
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Detroit Health Department’s goal in 2019 is to focus on these strategic partnerships across sectors to improve health. Last year, they conducted surveys asking 1,200 city of Detroit residents what challenges – and assets – were needed in relation to health concerns. An important thing to remember, according to Khaldun, is that health – and public health – is determined not just by Health Department programs, but really the communities in which people live, work, pray and play.
“We’ll be getting more into the neighborhoods,” Khaldun says, “instead of sitting back and waiting for people to come to us, we’ll be going out to people. An examples of that … we have a neighborhood-based led outreach strategy where we’re literally knocking on doors. We’ll be continuing that this year.”
Additionally, this will include an outreach under expansion, which engages people living in foreclosed homes. By partnering with other agencies, the Detroit Health Department will identify these areas (homes owned by the Land Bank), and knock on the doors of those individuals in order to provide a comprehensive assessment of what the needs are for those families – and connecting them right there, on their doorstep, to the services they need.
The point is simple: A lot of these challenges, whether it’s infant mortality, maternal health, or other issues, cannot be fixed in a single year, so the Detroit Health Department is committed to building upon previous work in an effort to affect change. “The exciting thing is we have to bring it more into the neighborhoods. We have to partner more. We have to make sure we are aligning our efforts across the city,” Khaldun says. “Public health is always focused on people and where people are. This is part of the city’s overall strategy of bringing services to residents, meeting them where they are and it’s exciting to be a part of it. The focus is on partnerships, integration and overall making the healthy choice, the easy choice.”
Because it isn’t always easy when there are separate programs all doing essentially the same thing. The Health Department wants to integrate and collaborate whenever possible – for the good of the community. Khaldun adds: “What you’ll be seeing us focusing on this year – and ongoing – is focusing on partnerships, neighborhood-based outreach and strategies and integration.”