Creating the Healthiest Nation in One Generation
Georges Benjamin, MD, is executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). Prior to APHA, Benjamin served as secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, following four years as its deputy secretary for public health services. As secretary, Benjamin oversaw the expansion and improvement of the state’s Medicaid program. An established administrator, author, and orator, Benjamin is leading APHA’s initiative to make America the healthiest nation in one generation.
How has your experience as secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene informed the work you do at APHA?
My experience in Maryland helped me learn how to run a complex organization with often conflicting goals. I learned the importance of focusing on a target set of important goals, setting measures to attain these goals, and then how to lead a multidisciplinary team of professionals to achieve them. APHA is a complex organization with a focused agenda seeking a visionary goal of leading a movement to make the United States the healthiest nation.
What is the mission of National Public Health Week, and what do you hope to accomplish with this year’s theme?
APHA observes National Public Health Week during the first full week of April each year. Through this national campaign, we celebrate public health and recognize the work being done by public health practitioners and our multi-sectoral partners throughout the country. This year’s theme is Healthiest Nation 2030. APHA’s central challenge is to become the healthiest nation in one generation. To achieve this goal, we know we need to take a health-in-all-policies approach focusing on the social determinants of health. That is why we created Generation Public Health, a social movement to engage people, communities, and organizations across all sectors working toward this goal. National Public Health Week is an opportunity to engage, educate, communicate, and advocate with our partners in Generation Public Health, as well as the public, to move toward creating conditions that improve health, achieve health equity, and increase life expectancy, which is the basis of Healthiest Nation 2030.
To help achieve this, we developed nine factsheets and hope that people use them as guides to educate themselves and take action steps. The factsheets focus on: healthy communities, high school graduation, economic mobility, social justice and health equity, healthy food, climate change and health, healthy choices, quality healthcare, and public health infrastructure.
Campaigns such as National Public Health Week encourage the nation to focus on public health. How does APHA work with state and territorial health departments to accomplish this goal?
APHA has 25,000 members plus our 54 state and regional public health affiliate associations. These 50,000 people are focusing on creating the healthiest nation. Many APHA members, as well as affiliate leaders and members, work in or partner with state, tribal, local or territorial health departments as part of their professional activities. The materials, technical assistance, and support that APHA provides to our members and affiliates helps them conduct community level programming and also strengthens the health departments. With the help of CDC’s Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support, APHA has been able to support affiliates in the provision of public health accreditation readiness to state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments.
What are a few things public health leaders can do to educate and engage the communities they serve?
Public health leaders can do many things to raise awareness and engage their communities. I’ll just list a few things that can help with education and engagement.
- This year’s National Public Health Week is focused on cross-sector collaboration. Public health leaders in every community can reach out and create partnerships with new and non-traditional partners. If we are really to create the healthiest nation, it is critical that public health leaders engage new sectors as champions of public health, and that public health offer our support to their work.
- Conduct research on health and policy issues that are important to the community. Share the information during meetings, webinars, and in various ways that are easily digestible. Leaders should use different social media platforms as a communication tool to reach a broad audience. Once the information has been shared, make the community a part of the solution. Invite them to share ideas and participate in action planning. Community input is key when working towards change.
- Encourage and empower people to attend public events that you will also be attending. They can share their stories about public health issues and how decisions may impact their community and ask questions at town halls, public meetings, and local events.
- Teach people how to contact and meet members of Congress, as well as their staff, to share stories. Their ideas and experiences matter and can impact decisionmaking. Leaders can use APHA templates and fact sheets to help educate communities and prepare them visits to Capitol Hill.