University of Washington
The magazine of the University of Washington School of Public Health

Using Evidence For Equity

Betty Bekemeier, PhD, MPH, RN, FAAN
Betty Bekemeier
After the economic recession of 2008, I took part in research efforts to better understand how public health leaders made decisions about the allocation of their organizational resources.

The financial crisis hit local public health agencies hard, forcing some administrators to make quick, draconian cuts to programs and staff. The many leaders I talked to lamented that they wished they were using more data and evidence to drive their decision-making, but such resources were not easily accessible. Various forces in their cities and counties were strong and swift — sometimes forcing their hands in ways that were counterproductive to supporting health and equity.

Being part of that research gave me a deeper understanding of the challenges health leaders face when deciding how best to protect the public’s health with fluctuating funding. It also strengthened my resolve to help them gain greater access to data and evidence to support their strategic planning.

The Northwest Center for Public Health Practice (NWCPHP) and the School of Public Health (SPH) are proud to bring you the 2018 issue of Northwest Public Health, which offers many examples of academic and practice-based public health professionals moving the field forward. With my research in mind, we’ve placed particular emphasis on how these leaders are strategically using a variety of data for better decision-making, policy development and program planning at state and local levels. In these times of visible opposition toward scientific evidence and human rights on pivotal issues like immigration and the environment, we’ve also taken considerable effort to highlight how people are taking action in these areas.

In this issue, we feature the Amigas Latinas Motivando el Alma (ALMA), or the Latina Friends Motivating the Spirit project, led by faculty member India Ornelas. This research team is working closely with community partners to build an evidence base for future programs that will help decrease the symptoms of depression among Latina immigrants, who experience this condition at higher rates than other ethnic groups. ALMA’s mindfulness project is also building capacity among the participants to be more empowered in their communities today.

Our story on maternal mortality explores how stakeholders from across public health and health care systems are using data to investigate and prevent the inequitable deaths of mothers in Washington. Their efforts, which are now in the early stages, will inform future changes to clinical practices and legislation to address injustices like racism and poverty that contribute to health disparities. Their forthcoming guidelines for maternal death investigations could very well become a model for other states.

In a much-needed success story, we feature how Oregon’s public health advocates scored a big win in their battle to reduce youth tobacco use by raising the legal purchasing age to 21. These champions from across the political spectrum used data and stories to persuade decision-makers into supporting health through a targeted policy solution, proving it can be done.

We take a stand with our opinion piece by calling for better regional data and collaboration among researchers, practitioners and community members to address the growing threat of severe wildfires and prolonged smoke events. This article stresses the importance of effective communication strategies for hard-to-reach populations in our region’s rural areas, which are the hardest hit by these devastating events.

In addition to exploring evidence-driven community solutions for health, we get up close and personal with several leaders from the field. We profile SPH alumna Beth Mizushima as she discusses the pleasures of living and working closely with her community in rural Washington to tackle urgent health issues. We introduce Janet Baseman, an ardent public health practice champion and our School’s new acting associate dean for public health practice, and the importance of collaborations between students, faculty and the practice community. We also feature a physician in our Online Executive MPH program and his efforts to gain more public health skills to bring prevention and healing to communities.

Public health in action, whether it is addressing opioid misuse or responding to wildfire smoke threatening a community, happens largely at the local level. In the best of times, we work in concert with strong, supportive federal systems. When those larger systems are less responsive, we must think even more creatively about how to get things done close to home. I hope the articles in this issue inspire you to use data and stories to make better decisions and create more equitable public health systems in your communities.

Supporting Data for Decision-Making

Left to right: Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer, WSDOH; Janet Baseman, Acting Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, SPH; Hilary Godwin, Dean, SPH; John Wiesman, Secretary of Health, WSDOH; Paj Nandi, Director of Community Relations and Equity, WSDOH; Betty Bekemeier, Director, NWCPHP.
Left to right: Kathy Lofy, State Health Officer, WSDOH; Janet Baseman, Acting Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, SPH; Hilary Godwin, Dean, SPH; John Wiesman, Secretary of Health, WSDOH; Paj Nandi, Director of Community Relations and Equity, WSDOH; Betty Bekemeier, Director, NWCPHP.

Academic health departments are a strong model for supporting the use of data for better decision-making and policy development.

In 2017, NWCPHP expanded its efforts to bring academic and practice partners closer together to better use data and develop evidence for addressing local health issues. The Center worked closely with the Washington State Department of Health, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the UW Schools of Public Health and Nursing to formalize academic health department alliances to increase collaborations for training students, generating evidence and using data to inform interventions that make a difference in our communities.