Redefining Public Health Professional

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What's a Health Professional?

By DeeDee Strum

When stepping back a few years ago from a 40-year career as a national advocate for families of low incomes and the communities where they LIVE, I looked to the opportunity to help build the next generation of housing and community development practitioners. My platform for doing so became my alma mater; the University of Maryland College Park (UMDCP) School of Public Health where years ago I earned both my B.S./M.S. in family and community development.

Close friends have since struggled with making the connection between my national acclaim as an advocate for quality affordable housing and my current status as a senior faculty advisor with the UMD-SPH. Indeed, I am Both a Public Health And a Housing and Community Development professional.

COVID-19 has now elevated the national conversation on the space occupied by “public health” and the veracity of public health professionals (and their “directives”). “Government” has long recognized its role in protecting the nation’s health: Public health promotes the welfare of the entire population (vs. the privileged doctor-patient or clinical health relationship) by (i) advancing the security and protection of the public from the spread of infectious disease and environmental hazards, (ii) promoting access to safe and quality care to the benefit of the overall population, and (iii) creating the conditions for good health, such as “decent, safe and sanitary housing”, amongst other duties and roles.

Illustratively, the MN State Board of Health shares its areas of public health responsibility to include (1) assuring an adequate local public health infrastructure, (2) promoting healthy communities and healthy behaviors, (3) preventing the spread of communicable disease, (4) protecting against environmental health hazards, (5) preparing for and responding to disasters and emergencies, and (6) assuring access to health services.

Indeed, Mandating the use of face masks in public settings during this national health emergency IS the purview of the public health community as envisioned by legislators at the federal, state and local level.