‘Systemic Change Begins with Policy’
As SPH celebrates the work of health law, policy & management in May, members of the SPH Dean’s Advisory Board discuss how policies impact public health outcomes.
PUBLIC policies play a vital role our society, shaping overall health and quality of life. Critical issues of the past year—from the COVID-19 pandemic and police brutality, to the gun violence epidemic, voter suppression, and anti-transgender legislation—demonstrate how various policies and laws can create opportunities or perpetuate the structural inequities that prevent certain populations from leading healthy lives.
For the month of May, the School of Public Health is highlighting the work of the Department of Health Law, Policy & Management and its focus on evaluating, informing, and advancing health and social policy, health economics, and healthcare management. As the school prepares to highlight this scholarship, SPH Dean’s Advisory Board members shared their thoughts on how laws and policies impact public health, and how SPH is uniquely positioned to advance evidence-based research to inform policies that promote health equity and social justice.
“Health law, policy, and management converge between public health and its impact on health equity and inclusion for the present and future of our society,” says Kevin Churchwell, president and chief executive officer of Boston Children’s Hospital. “Understanding and defining such intersections will continue to bring these issues to the forefront and offer the opportunity for positive solutions. Systemic change begins with policy in helping to dismantle the system of health inequities.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has served as a clarion call to the importance of strong, sustained public health engagement for our world to survive and flourish,” says Gloria Respress-Churchwell, a children’s author and co-chair of SPH’s 45th Anniversary Gala in November. “The simple, straightforward solutions that public health has delivered to the world in combating the pandemic have made all the difference.”
Straightforward solutions are a strategy that John Rosenthal has embraced for decades as a passionate advocate for stricter state and national gun safety laws. As the cofounder of the nonprofit organization, Stop Handgun Violence, and a gun owner himself, he has helped change the political and public conversation about gun ownership, legislation, and violence by advocating for restricting gun access to people who could endanger themselves or others, rather than trying to ban all guns. Massachusetts now has the lowest gun death rate in the country and the first state in the nation to regulate the gun industry, Rosenthal said in a recent PHPod conversation with Public Health Post.
“Good public policy leads to good pub health outcomes and the opposite its true as well as we’ve seen,” said Rosenthal, referring to the spate of recent mass shootings across the nation. “National gun policy has been to allow unrestricted access to all firearms, including easily concealed handguns and large-capacity ammunition magazines without detection. Massachusetts’ success in reducing the gun death rate by 40 percent could easily be replicable if elected officials in other states decide to prioritize public health and safety over preventable gun violence,” he says.
This disconnect that often exists between public health experts and policymakers—and the public—is exactly why evidence-based research is needed to inform health law and policy, says Laurel Gormley, a portfolio manager and equity analyst at Boston-based money management firm Adage Capital Management.
With the field’s long-term focus on such issues as health promotion, disease prevention, emergency preparedness, risk assessment, and the environment, public health is the silent partner in need of a spotlight,” Gormley says.
Elevating the work of Health Law, Policy, and Management this month is important because “important public health progress is supported at the intersection of these three domains,” she says. “As the best approaches emanate from clinical and public health practice, they inform the development of sound laws, policies, and management practices to ensure they are implemented and sustained. These issues are key to the public health infrastructure—and like the season in May, they represent visible signs of progress and hope.”