Population Health Blog

Population Health Blog

Why It Matters

Social Work’s Grand Challenges and their relevance to health concerns in Detroit

By Tam Perry, PhD
I am just back from the 2016 Society of Social Work and Research Annual Conference in Washington D.C. At this conference, social work researchers celebrated a 20-year anniversary of the conference and the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare launched 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work.

The Grand Challenges for Social Work represent a dynamic social agenda, focused on improving individual and family well-being, strengthening the social fabric, and helping create a more just society, all of which complement the work of population health:
* Ensure healthy development for all youth
* Close the health gap
* Stop family violence
* Advance long and productive lives
* Eradicate social isolation
* End homelessness
* Create social responses to a changing environment
* Harness technology for social good
* Promote smart decarceration
* Reduce extreme economic inequality
* Build financial capability for all
* Achieve equal opportunity and justice

For more information: http://aaswsw.org/grand-challenges-initiative/12-challenges/

As we think about how these apply to vulnerable populations we serve in Detroit, we realize that we must take seriously measuring progress on these concerns and that researchers must collaborate with community members first and foremost, practitioners and policy makers. We must also make central what can be on the side line-how do we make and sustain difference and how do we sustain real difference?

Other concerns are about avoiding duplication, and avoiding studying problems without following up, that is descriptive studies with implementation of interventions. And how to understand logics that may not be our own.

The key note speaker at this conference was Larry Davis, dean of the School of Social Work at University of Pittsburgh. He spoke on, “Race: America’s Grand Challenge.” And it was emphasized that race is the grandest challenge America faces and that it permeates all 12 of the challenges. And so, in this new year, we ask, where can we talk about health and race disparities? Let’s examine waiting time in Emergency Departments (68 minutes for blacks vs. 50 minutes for Whites). Or 21 minutes for reporting chest pain or 23 more minutes for reporting shortness of breath-see below for more on this topic.

Let’s think about how “ed” and “med” institutions in the city, including Authority Health can work together. And let’s talk about where we can go from here.

Happy New Year.

Tam E. Perry. PhD, is assistant professor at the Wayne State University School of Social Work and member of the Senior Housing Preservation – Detroit coalition.

‘Walking Man’s’ weight gain offers new chapter in cautionary tale

By Dennis Archambault

Last winter, James Robertson personified the transportation problem in Southeast Michigan through a series of articles in the Detroit Free Press, which dubbed him “Walking Man” and documented his plight walking 21 miles each day to and from work because public transportation couldn’t get him from Detroit to his suburban employment site. Thousands of workers face the same challenge.

For us, Robertson also exemplified the mobility challenges that prevent vulnerable populations from getting to health care services, particularly diagnostic and educational programs. It’s a challenge we hope will be remedied through the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan http://www.rtamichigan.org/. In the meantime, access to health care continues to be a problem, despite the implementation of Healthy Michigan and affordable health care insurance.

The Free Press recently noted a new stage in the evolution of the Walking Man saga http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2016/02/06/walking-man-james-robertson–detroit-troy-buses-oakland-county-smart-ddot-ford-taurus/79505152/, one which personifies the plague of the modern, affluent society: obesity. Robertson told the Free Press that he has gained considerable weight, now that he drives to and from work in the comfort of a new car donated to him through a community fundraising drive. Robertson continues to work; in fact, he’s now working on Saturday’s and has been given a raise. The bad news is that his diet hasn’t changed and his lack of activity has taken him “from slightly pudgy to overweight.” The Free Press coverage simply articulates our sedentary lifestyle. “That had to happen, after his sweeping change in lifestyle, trading hours of daily walking in all kinds of weather for the leisure and cable-TV time that most Americans take for granted. Robertson doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol, but he still eats the heavy meals he did before, still gulps Cokes and Mountain Dew, still digs into country dinners his boss’ wife cooks for him. And it shows.”

Those of us who sit a lot as we work understand this dilemma. Robertson, it appears, has as well. He has resolved to lose weight, joined a health club, and has made an appointment to see a doctor for the first time in memory.

Robertson plays, for us, the classic role of “everyman.” As his plight served to generate critical discussion on the real inequity of the region’s mobility problems, his struggle to adapt to his new living conditions and maintain his health is something practically everyone can understand. How he deals with it may be come with the next chapter in his saga.

Dennis Archambault is director of Public Affairs for Authority Health.