Dr. Paula Johnson's Call For A New Vision Of Public Health, Care Delivery

Dr. Paula Johnson, Chief of Women
Dr. Paula Johnson, Chief of Women

Dr. Paula Johnson delivered a 40-page speech earlier this week on how the lessons of the civil rights movement can be used to galvanize a new movement in health care — to make quality health care more accessible, and to make it more meaningful so that all people, particularly those with limited means, can achieve better health.

I excerpted some of the speech in this post, but Dr. Johnson, Chief of the Division of Women’s Health at Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and Executive Director for the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology, had more to say.

"We have not communicated the health crisis in this country," she told me last night, after chairing a meeting of the Boston Public Health Commission, and dealing with her own children's health issues, which involved her running home for a change of clothes and then heading back to Children's Hospital.

She said people don't realize that projections show that future generations have a shorter life expectancy, and that big thinkers on health care, as well as those working in the field, need to get together and figure out ways to make clear the urgency of the problems this country faces when it comes to the health of its citizens.

"Where do we need to innovate in health care?" she asked. "We tend to work in silos — health care delivery tends to take an individual approach, and public health takes a population approach. There's real opportunity when you start to bridge those fields. You've got to take a 360 degree view."

One example, she cites is the CAVU (Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited) Foundation, which has launched a project to prevent and treat childhood obesity in underserved communities like Roxbury. This program, Dr. Johnson says, looks at childhood obesity on several levels because you can't fix the problem without accepting its complexity.

So CAVU brings kids into community health centers (those who are already struggling with obesity as well as those just trying to maintain a healthy weight) and works with them in teams on how to motivate good behavior. The program also works with the children's families to help them understand more about healthy food and exercise. They offer food vouchers so the families can shop at local farmers markets, while at the same time working with the farmers on making their products more accessible and affordable to lower income families. Finally the CAVU administrators are working with city and state lawmakers to make changes in food policy.

"So, it's working on the problem on a number of levels, and not allowing health care for an individual to separate itself from public health," Dr. Johnson says.

If all this sounds like the seeds of a larger discussion, that's because it is. Dr. Johnson is working on a new paper that challenges her colleagues in health care to do a better job bridging the gaps.

So stay tuned.

This program aired on February 11, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Headshot of Rachel Zimmerman

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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