Each year, Public Health Week is a chance to celebrate and reflect on the outstanding service of public health workers and their contributions to keeping our communities safe and healthy. Public Health Week is April 5 to 11, and after more than 13 months of local COVID-19 response, the magnitude of this year’s recognition is unique.
San Juan Basin Public Health empathizes with everyone who has lost a loved one or had their health or livelihood hurt by the virus. We grieve the loss of thousands of Coloradans to COVID-19. Amid this somber backdrop, our increasing vaccination rate is one of many signals that better days lie ahead.
Other silver linings abound. We have built public health capacity through the growth of our local Medical Reserve Corps, as more than 650 of our friends and neighbors signed up to volunteer to respond to the pandemic. More than ever, we all have a role to play in public health, and so this week we celebrate volunteers in addition to dedicated public servants at SJBPH. We’ve learned over the past year we are all more connected than we think, and that each person who has chosen to wear a mask, get tested, receive the vaccine or cut down on activities that spread infection also deserves recognition this year.
As we show gratitude for these contributions, we are also using Public Health Week as an opportunity to look ahead and highlight a topic that COVID-19 laid bare over the past year – inequitable outcomes in public health. The theme of Public Health Week this year feels particularly fitting: “Building Bridges to Public Health Equity.” Put simply, public health equity seeks to correct differences in people’s health and environment based on social factors like race, ethnicity, gender, educational attainment, language and technology skills, income and location. We’ve seen these disparities in stark terms over the past year as the pandemic has disproportionately harmed communities of color and low-income and immigrant communities.
The good news is that working together, we can reduce these disparities. At SJBPH, we are trained to diagnose the health of the community as a whole rather than individual patients. COVID-19 has shown us, now more than ever, that prevention and community health are the best medicine. Rather than wait until people are sick or injured to begin treating them, public health aims to both improve our lives and save us money with programs that include:
Maternal health and nutrition.Early childhood development, safety and healthy eating. Developmental assets for children and teens to prevent substance use disorder or suicide.Clinical care for priority populations, including specialty care for children, cancer screenings, HIV/STI screenings and prevention.Assistance accessing health insurance and health care and with patient navigators and care coordinators.Consumer protection services, including safe restaurants and healthy households.Protecting our air and water quality. These longstanding issues did not disappear during COVID-19, and SJBPH staff members continued these important programs for our community and focused on health equity throughout the pandemic. What COVID-19 has done is bring these conversations to people’s dinner tables and into the forefront of public dialogue. We’ve all learned that serious obstacles remain to everyone having the potential to achieve their best health, and that the healthier we all are, the more resilient and better prepared we will be to respond to future public health emergencies.
This week, please resolve to join the whole public health community in building a bridge to a healthier, stronger, more equitable future as we enter the beginning of the end of this global pandemic together.
Liane Jollon is executive director of San Juan Basin Public Health, and Chandler Griffin is SJBPH’s interim communications director.