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Commentary Health Care

Opinion: What to Look for in Baltimore City’s Next Health Commissioner

We recognize that the Baltimore city health commissioner plays a vital role in ensuring that Baltimoreans have equal opportunity to access high-quality health care while ensuring the social and environmental factors that are so vital to maintaining healthy lives are also addressed. We call on the next health commissioner to embrace the core mission and vision of the Baltimore City Health Department and adopt a results-driven approach to establishing health improvement initiatives throughout all of our neighborhoods and to do so by beginning with a grassroots, listening approach that equally values the input from every neighborhood throughout the city so that all citizens’ voices can be heard. Dr. Drew A. Pate Together we can work to create a system of health care and public health initiatives that focus on the needs of our communities. We must recognize there are significant historical and present-day disparities in access to health care and addiction treatment services, in access to healthy food, in access to safe drinking water and clean air, and that these disparities result in significant differences in health outcomes with dramatic differences for life expectancy based on the neighborhood in which you live. Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham Sr. We must also address the significant disparities that exist in the prevalence of chronic disease and exposure to violence in our neighborhoods. To address these disparities and their results, we call on the next Baltimore health commissioner to address the following issues and to agree to remain publicly accountable to their outcomes: 

  • Develop a system of community-centered health care clinics that reach people in their neighborhoods and their schools and ask the large health care institutions that benefit from Maryland’s tax system to commit to the creation and maintenance of these clinics.
  • Create a city-based system of outcome-driven addiction treatment services that intervene when individuals are arrested for addiction issues and divert those individuals into treatment programs rather than long-term and expensive incarceration.
  • Support initiatives for underserved families to establish universal prekindergarten and early intervention services to create healthy foundations for our families and to create the greatest opportunity for future success.
  • Create professional assessment and evidence-based treatment programs for Baltimore youth who enter the juvenile justice system.
  • Maintain and publicly report on crime statistics that are related to addiction issues or occur in close proximity to liquor stores so that the citizens of Baltimore are regularly informed of the role that addiction and substance use play in crime so that we highlight the need for greater and more effective treatment services.
  • Establish principles and guidelines for evidence-based treatment for public health interventions, mental health and addiction services that are delivered to Baltimore residents and publicly report on the organizations that engage in evidence-based treatment and their outcomes.
  • Expand the Office of Youth Violence Prevention and establish an identified community liaison in each neighborhood to develop violence prevention and response initiatives that fit the needs of the neighborhood and allow for ongoing community-based education for children and families who have witnessed or been victims of violence so that we can work to diminish the negative effects of trauma on our communities.
  • Focus on eliminating food deserts for our citizens by working with neighborhoods to identify and engage healthy food vendors and locations that are accessible to everyone in the community and are especially focused on the needs of our fellow citizens who are most likely to live in poverty — our children and our seniors.

 We ask Mayor Catherine Pugh to engage citizens across Baltimore to hear their concerns and to publicly address these concerns with those who are being considered for the position of health commissioner. If we are clear about the city’s health needs from the beginning of the search process for a new health commissioner, then they can hit the ground running and ensure that the core mission and vision of Baltimore’s health department is achieved and the lives and health of Baltimoreans will be improved as a result. DR. DREW A. PATE AND MARVIN L. “DOC” CHEATHAM SR.
The writers are, respectively, a pediatric psychiatrist and the Green Party candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates from District 41, and president of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association.


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Opinion: What to Look for in Baltimore City’s Next Health Commissioner