On January 14-15, I attended the Mid-Atlantic Partnership's regional conference. This two-day conference brought together professionals from across the region to learn about the social determinants of health, health inequities, and what we, as public health professionals, can do to address these inequities in the mid-Atlantic region during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. This partnership between the Pennsylvania Public Health Association (PPHA), the Delaware Public Health Association (DPHA), and the Maryland Public Health Association (MdPHA) began in April 2020. These organizations recognized that pandemics and other health concerns do not adhere to state boundaries and that, now more than ever, strong public health infrastructure is essential to improving community health. The partnership began with a “Public Health Hangout” series at which professionals from across the region could meet virtually to discuss challenges, provide support, and brainstorm solutions.
The conference offered three tracks: addressing equity in health, tracking the social determinants of health, and the future of health policy. The equity in health track had sessions on topics such as maternal and child health, LGBTQ+ health, and criminal justice; the social determinants of health track covered topics such as education, the physical environment, and food insecurity; and the future of health policy track covered topics such as the opioid crisis, gun violence, and chronic disease. Just as the topics of the sessions were diverse, the speakers were from diverse communities with a variety of experiences and areas of expertise. Sessions featured a speaker from each of the three states. For example, in the Immigrant Health session, the speakers included the interim chief program officer of La Clinica del Pueblo that serves members of the Latinx community in Maryland and DC, the CEO of the Jewish Family Services of Delaware, and the founder of Latino Connections in Pennsylvania. The speakers addressed barriers and challenges that immigrant and refugee populations experience and ways that their organizations work to reduce these barriers. With misinformation and disinformation prevalent during this pandemic, staff from La Clinica del Pueblo work hard to connect their clients with trustworthy sources and translate scientific and medical jargon into easily understood language. The Jewish Family Services of Delaware staff work to settle refugee families and connect individuals to services from health screenings to getting their driver's licenses, and the Latino Connection has a mobile COVID-19 testing van that staff have driven all around the state to provide testing and flu vaccinations to Latinx immigrant and migrant communities. These organizations, like many others, are supported by volunteers. Speakers from the Jewish Family Services of Delaware and Latino Connection noted that their organizations even have virtual volunteering opportunities during the pandemic. Information on virtual volunteer opportunities is available here and here.
Although 2020 was a challenging year, partnerships and conferences such as these fill me with optimism for a healthier future and gratitude for all of the hard-working public health professionals in the region and around the world. I appreciate the Mid-Atlantic Partnership’s hard work to host this conference and look forward to volunteering with organizations in my community to help improve health outcomes and address persistent health inequities.
Written by Alexandra DiOrio, MPH