Newly-named advisors will help steer city health policy

Members of a newly-appointed Health Equity Advisory Committee include (op row, l-r) John A. Howard, Athene Wilson-Glover, Angelica Sierra, Edna G. Rivera-Carrasco, Kendra Liburd, Kristen Risley, Damián Lima. Bottom row (Board of Health): Harold D. Cox, Joseph R. Betancourt, Francis J. Doyle, Monica Valdes Lupi, Myechia Minter-Jordan, Manny Lopes. BPHC photo.

The Boston Public Health Commission has assembled its first ever Health Equity Advisory Committee—a board of 10 Boston residents from seven neighborhoods committed to advancing healthcare equity throughout the city. The committee is comprised of healthcare professionals, social workers, and community organizers, including John A. Howard, Kendra Liburd, Kristen Risley, and Athene Wilson-Glover, who hail from Dorchester.

Paulette Durrett, a resident of Mattapan, will also serve on the committee.

“BPHC is committed to addressing the historic, current and structural racism that results in inequitable access to health,” said BPHC Executive Director Monica Valdes Lupi. “We envision Boston as a city where all residents have equitable access to those things that promote health, including safe and affordable housing, living wages, education opportunities and healthy environments.”

Last May, the BPHC released an application to recruit members for the committee. John A. Howard, who grew up in Boston, was inspired to join the committee because of his personal experience with healthcare inequity.

“My father, born in 1915, passed away at the age of 54 of a stroke,” Howard said. “He was obese, diabetic, and a daily smoker. As a young man, the topics of health, diet, nutrition, and exercise were never spoken [of] in my family of three brothers and one sister.”

As Howard grew older, he became aware of a disparity between healthcare access and education within the city of Boston and the access and education available in the city’s suburbs.

“In 1983, after taking a risk assessment test at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, I found that my health risk assessment and my Dorchester neighbors’ [assessments] were not at the same level of surrounding suburban communities,” Howard said.

Athene Wilson-Glover, the breast health community outreach coordinator at Codman Square Health Center, joined the committee to help voice the diverse healthcare needs and interests of Boston’s population.

“I live in the community and wanted to have the opportunity to be at the table in addressing the issues and be helpful in discussing and implementing solutions,” Wilson-Glover said.

In order to combat inequities and meet the needs of all Bostonians, HEAC members will advise the BPHC on the development of policy matters, communications, data, and inclusive community engagement practices.

Committee members will serve two-year terms. In alignment with BPHC’s mission, vision, and health equity priorities, members will review population health data reports and health planning documents. The group’s overarching goal is to ensure that BPHC attentively and adequately responds to community needs and interests.

Dorchester resident and committee member Kristen Risley works as a senior project specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, focusing on population health.

“For me, having the opportunity to engage and collaborate with my neighbors on this individual level will be a great complement to the systems work that I do every day,” Risley said. “I’m just excited to work with this group that is as engaged in improving outcomes for our neighbors as I am. Taking my experience from the community health and neighborhood perspective and combining it at this level is going to be really exciting.”

Moreover, committee members will serve as resources for sharing information about public health, the social determinants of health, and health equity with their communities. Committee members will then share community feedback and ideas with BPHC.

Kendra Liburd, a technical research assistant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, hopes to better understand how social determinants shape healthcare access.

“I intend on being a conduit in my community when it comes to the importance of public health,” Liburd said. “The Health Equity Advisory Committee will not be looking at just one issue in the Boston area; it will examine numerous factors resulting in health inequities. With such a broad lens, I hope to increase awareness of public health within Dorchester and throughout Boston.”

The members will begin their two-year tenure this fall.

“I feel strongly that health options should be level across the board for all people and access to them should not be a privilege,” Risley said. “We can achieve more equity across other life domains if we are creative enough to find ways to achieve health equity. If any city can do it, it’s Boston.”