The mission of CCPH, “to promote health equity and social justice through partnerships between communities and academic institutions”, summarizes my career as a public and population health professional. The eradication of health disparities and commitment to social justice has been at the center of my work as a scientist and academic leader. Since 2013, I have had the distinct opportunity and challenge to address these topics in Mississippi; a state with significant health and economic disparities. Mississippi is steeped in the atrocities of slavery and Jim Crow, but wrapped in the strength of hope exhibited during the Civil Rights Era and the warmth of the “hospitality state”.
Health and health-related challenges in rural communities in the United States (U.S.) have been long-standing and well-documented and Mississippi is one of the most rural states in the nation. Sixty-five of its 82 counties (79%) are designated as rural and nearly every county is considered Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA). Mississippi has a large land mass that is not densely populated (less than 3 million residents); therefore, partnerships are critical to improving the health of its residents. I believe core principles for effective cross-sector partnerships are grounded in standards for successful systems integration and include: 1) the common goal of improving population health; 2) involvement of communities in defining and addressing health needs; 3) strong leadership working to bridge disciplines, programs, and jurisdictions; 4) sustainability; and 5) the collaborative use of data and analyses. The desired outcome of implementing these principles and forging collaborative health care models is consistent with the overall mission of academic health centers – the commitment to improve the nation’s health. Building long-standing, effective, and efficient academic-community partnerships are central to achieving this mission and requires sustained levels of transparency and consistency in messaging among partners and stakeholders.
My early experience with the science and practice of forging and maintaining academic-community partnerships began in graduate school at Temple University and the University of Texas Health Science Center. My professors not only provided students with a rigorous education in community health science, but they were also adept in contributions to the scientific literature and exemplified the application of scientific principles through action-oriented, community-partnered research. I attempt to operationalize and implement these principles every day of my life; at work and in my personal life.
One of the distinct joys of my career has been establishing partnerships that span across multiple communities and the memorable to do date is launching the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC). Developed in partnership with Dr. Myrlie Evers-Williams and Reena Evers-Everette, the Institute is dedicated to the reduction of and eventual elimination of health disparities through community engagement, with the vision of creating lasting solutions to the elimination of health disparities in Mississippi. We have forged many strong partnerships with community and academic organizations including a specialty clinic – EversCare – to address the social determinants of health (transportation, housing, education, personal safety, and food insecurity) among the patients seen at the UMMC adult and children’s hospitals, and the general community. Through the EversCare program, we established an emergency food pantry in partnership with the Mississippi Urban League and the Mississippi Food Network – the state’s only food bank. Mississippi is the most food-insecure state in the nation, therefore, the potential community impact of this partnership cannot be understated. Over 600,000 people (~20% of the population) are considered food insecure, including 1 in 4 children. This creates an overall food insecurity rate of 22%, however, several rural counties have rates as high as 40%.
Although I am a new CCPH Board member, I have been affiliated with the organization since 2006. It was my pleasure to host our April board meeting and Convening in Mississippi, and to welcome home native son and former board member Dr. Sacoby Wilson to deliver the 2019 Marian Wright Edelman Lectureship. The outstanding work of the CCPH board and membership is only one of the many reasons I was honored to officially join this group in 2018.
If you are not a current member, please consider joining today. If you are a member, thank you for your commitment to this organization and we hope that you will continue your work in forging respectful and impactful community-campus partnership for health!
Bettina Beech, DrPH, MPH
Professor and Founding Dean of the John D. Bower School of Population Health
Executive Director of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Disparities.
Board Member, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health