By Frederica M. Williams, MBA
In 2005, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) published an extensive public health report, anchored in identifying and addressing health disparities in Boston, based specifically on the demographic categories of socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity. Perusing through the pages of the report, one immediately notices how these social demographics correspondingly relate to the health outcomes of Bostonians who fall under their definitive umbrella. For example, according to the study, more residents of Boston, who are either Black or Latino, self-reported as defining their health as “Poor” than White respondents. What’s more is that, regardless of racial groupings, residents from lower socioeconomic statuses were more likely to report the status of their health as “Poor” or “Worsening.”
Although approaching a decade since its publication, the relevance and potency of this study continues to echo into the present state of Boston healthcare. For instance, in a study conducted in 2013 by the BPHC, which included statistics regarding such health outcomes like chronic diseases, mental health hospitalizations, substance abuse, and much more, 33% of Black Boston residents were identified as obese, as well as 27% of Latinos, compared to only 16 % of White Bostonians; when assessed transracially, almost 30% of the city’s poorest residents were documented as clinically obese. As in the 2005 study, we see a compounded correlation that continues to persist in regard to race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status concerning the state of health of individuals who are linked to these categorical measures.
With respect to these two exhaustive and impactful empirical studies, as President and CEO of Whittier, I am committed to ensuring that our health center serves as a vanguard in the community in terms of leveling the field for access to quality healthcare services for minority and low-income residents in Boston.
But, how, one may ask?
Needless to say, there is not simply a single answer or solution to this question. Nevertheless, here at Whittier, we are working tirelessly and ingeniously, through all of our primary care services and community outreach programs, to help identify and dissolve all of the social determinants of health, such as socioeconomic status, gender inequities, LGBTQ discrimination, etc., with the goal of establishing all-inclusive health care equity in Boston, arguably one of the most diverse cities in the country.
In the past year alone, Whittier has demonstrated this commitment by inaugurating an innovative Health and Wellness Institute, which is geared toward the prevention of the development of chronic diseases and management thereof for those who have been already diagnosed with a chronic illness, through our Fitness Club and Community Wellness Garden. Comprising of a state-of-the-art physical fitness facility and public garden, Whittier’s Health and Wellness Institute seeks to promote and provide access to physical fitness, fresh, organic produce, and educational and nutritional guidance on how to establish a healthy lifestyle as a resident living in the inner-city, where these resources are scarce, if present at all. In regard to the educational and nutritional support, Whittier has hired Health Coaches, who are certified fitness trainers and registered dieticians, as well as a certified Nutritionist, to instill the necessary life-skills to enable each patient to autonomously self-manage and attain their prescribed daily, weekly, monthly, and annual health goals. To measure the success of the institute, the Whittier team has designed an innovative in-house evaluative tool, officially known as the Boston Health Equity Program (BHEP), which established the clinical goals for the ongoing fiscal year. Involving a Prescription for Health Plan (PHP) and Electronic Medical Record (EMR) database, in tandem with the Health and Wellness Institute, the BHEP aims to appropriately prevent and manage health illnesses by preliminarily grouping patients according to the severity of their health and by prescribing them a detailed, tailored fitness and nutrition regimen, which serves as the clinical basis for their participation in the Health and Wellness Institute.
There is no denying that we have a long way to go in regard to seeing complete health equity in the city of Boston. However, it is my belief that all desirable goals must first begin with a clear vision and be accompanied by an innovative, comprehensive strategy. Through our Health and Wellness Institute, Whittier Street Health Center has staked its claim in the morally-driven duty to provide access to quality healthcare to Boston’s most vulnerable and underserved populations.
Wishing you good health!
Frederica M. Williams, President and CEO