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Washington, D.C. is not a healthy city. Compared to the rest of the U.S., the D.C. metropolitan area has higher than average rates of heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and infant mortality—as well as one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the country. Not surprisingly, the most dire health statistics are found in the region’s low-income and minority neighborhoods.
In 2004, impatient with years of seemingly endless public debate about the problems associated with regional health and health care, the Consumer Health Foundation (CHF) decided to seek solutions as the basis for local reform. With help from Burness, the Foundation organized a series of community forums, called “Speakouts,” during which area residents offered suggestions for improving health and health care in the region.
In 2006, CHF released its recommendations in a Burness-produced report: Speaking Up and Speaking Out for Health: A Community Call to Action to Improve Health and Health Care in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Region. Today, the reverberations from that report are being felt throughout the region as CHF works with local government officials, public health and health care providers, community advocates, and entire communities to implement the report’s recommendations, which focus on redefining good health as being about more than just health care. It’s also about racial justice, health equity, and quality of life.
One example: the Speakouts launched the concept of Wellness Opportunity Zones, which encourage local communities to make health a priority in policy setting and planning decisions. As a result, in March 2007, the Prince George’s County Council unanimously voted to make its Port Towns area a Wellness Opportunity Zone. And, around the same time, Adrian Fenty, the new mayor of Washington, included Wellness Opportunity Zones in his 100-day plan for the city. The idea also made its way to an Indianapolis community by way of a national meeting of grantmakers. Today, all three communities are seeing positive changes as a result.
Another example is the Ngozi project, which was inspired by Ngozi Hall, who stood up at a speakout event and told the tragic story of her husband’s losing battle with prostate cancer. She felt things would have been different if she and her husband had better understood how to navigate the health care system. Ms. Hall inspired CHF to push for the creation of a regional, one-stop health information center where people can go for help. As a result, CHF provided a grant to the National Health Law Program to begin replicating its Health Consumer Alliance program in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. It also formed a partnership with the One Economy Corporation as well as primary care systems in Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia, and suburban Maryland to develop D.C. Healthcare For You (http://dc.healthcareforyou.org/) into a regional resource for healthcare consumers.
The report included four other major recommendations, all of which the Foundation continues to push forward. According to CHF President Margaret O’Bryon: “We want to help bring about equitable, accessible, and high-quality health care AND address the social and economic conditions and policies beyond heath care that shape the health of a person