The Power and Perils of Public Health at #MACoCon

Public health has the power to prevent disease, prolong life, and promote the wellbeing of all residents. Public health officials serve on the frontline of protecting communities against the perils of epidemic threats, infectious diseases, addiction, mental illness, poverty, and violence.

At the MACo Winter Conference general session “The Power and Perils of Public Healthpresenters discussed the broad scope of health and human services related issues state and local health officials are grappling with. Including the importance of delivering a network of high quality services and improving the overall well-being of our communities.

Dr. Howard Haft, Deputy Secretary of Public Health at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) and Dr. Gregory Branch, Baltimore County Health Officer, presented on big picture health related issues the state and counties are dealing with.

Senator Middleton introduces the panelists for the Power and Perils of Public Health general session.
Senator Middleton introduces the panelists for the Power and Perils of Public Health general session.

Dr. Haft highlighted the strategic plan for the department and focused the remainder of his presentation on health equity issues and the transformation of health care delivery. He stressed the need to look past traditional borders and see how social determinants of health, such as adequate nutrition to income, housing and education, significantly impact our overall well-being. Dr. Haft also talked about the close relationship between DHMH and the local health departments who are the boots on the ground. 

“Public health is on the job”. Dr. Branch launched his presentation with a discussion of how public health touches a nearly all facets of our daily lives from clean drinking water to emergency preparedness. In discussing specific challenges faced in Baltimore County, Dr. Branch focused opioid overdose deaths and a surge in STIs specifically syphilis. Citing successes he shared about the reduction in tobacco sales to minors and an increase in services for owned and unowned animals. 

Chair of the Maryland Association of Youth Service Bureaus, Liz Park, presented on the mental and preventative health challenges facing at risk youths and their families, as well as how Youth Service Bureaus help provide services and bridge gaps in the delivery of that care. Ms. Park also discussed the importance of state and local partnerships to address the broad range of prevention and early intervention needs. 

Liz Park presents on Youth Service Bureaus as part of community based prevention and early intervention services.
Liz Park presents on Youth Service Bureaus as part of community based prevention and early intervention services.

Last but not least, J.B. Moore, a member of NAMI Maryland’s Board of Directors, called attention to the specials needs of veterans through the moving story of the marine Clay Hunt who lost his life to suicide after a decorated military career. Ms. Moore stressed the importance of suicide prevention and quality mental health care; noting the gaps in services and ways local governments can help. 

The session was moderated by Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton who shared his own insights from his position as the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee which hears much of the health related legislation that is introduced. The session was held on Thursday, December 8.

The MACo Winter Conference was held December 7-9, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge, Maryland. This year’s conference theme was “An Ounce of Prevention”.