Western MA Health Equity Summit puts focus on removing barriers to achieving good health

September 29, 2014

Organizers from the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and a coalition of public health leaders from across the four western Massachusetts counties expect to draw a capacity crowd of up to 300 people to the UMass Amherst Campus Center on Thursday, October 2, 2014, for the first-ever Western Massachusetts Health Equity Summit.

The day will be devoted to panels, speakers and workshops for discussing ways to replace unjust and avoidable obstacles to good health with more equitable policies and practices, says summit organizer Risa Silverman, outreach coordinator for the School of Public Health and Health Sciences. A western-Massachusetts-focused health conference “doesn’t happen very often,” Silverman notes, “which is why this one is going to be very special.”

Keynote speaker will be Amanda Maria Navarro, a national health equity and policy expert and former researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who is now deputy director of PolicyLink, a national research and action institute.

Silverman says more than 250 are already registered, among them city and town planners, librarians, health board members, public health researchers and students, police officers, nurses and people from across western Massachusetts who work with elders, minorities, the LGBT community, women and girls, the homeless, refugees and immigrants, veterans, people with disabilities and in rural communities.

“Health care isn’t just about doctors and nurses anymore,” she explains. “If low income people don’t have a way to get to a store that sells healthy food, public transportation planners are now becoming aware that they can help do something about that by providing different bus service. If you have diabetes and you’re trying to walk more but your sidewalks are broken and there’s gunfire in your neighborhood, city planners and police now get it that these things must be addressed. That is the sort of thing a health equity summit will illustrate for us all.”

Silverman adds, “It’s unusual for such a wide variety of people to get together and see that we have a common vision. We on the organizing committee feel that the only way we’re going to make progress is if we get out of our silos and work together. We see this summit as a steppingstone and we’re going to follow up with practical actions.”

“We’re trying to build community in new ways so it’s not just the mailman watching out for you anymore, it might be a librarian who notices something or a firefighter who sees a need during a routine inspection. To move toward greater health equity, we need a shared understanding of where we are now, where we want to go, and the tools that can help us get there.”

The day will begin with thought-provoking skits put on by people from different communities and end with a colorful “creativity corridor” featuring photos, videos and an art exhibit. Also included will be lunch with local, sustainably grown foods from Springfield’s Gardening the Community program and Nuestras Raices, a grassroots urban agriculture organization based in Holyoke.

Summit sponsors include Baystate Health, UMass Amherst Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, Massachusetts General Hospital, Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Holyoke Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Pioneer Valley Transportation Authority and Community Health Center of Franklin County.

Learn more at the Western MA Health Equity Summit website.