The health policy community finds its voice in the face of a new environment for health and health care.  

Like so many people around the country, in the days after the election, we found that we had a hard time thinking about work. There are many issues to consider, but as public health professionals, we were especially worried about how we might continue to promote health and wellbeing, and advance health equity for the most vulnerable in a political environment that, in so many ways, would be operating in direct opposition to our values and objectives.

Many of us are employed at organizations that are nonpartisan and that, for many reasons, do not or cannot engage in advocacy work, reflecting, in many ways, our emphasis on the importance of protecting health for everyone, everywhere, not just those in agreement with a particular political point of view.

The health policy community finds its voice in the face of a new environment for health and health care

As a new administration came in and announced an intent to cut funding for hunger programs, reduce supports for public housing in low-income communities and potentially eliminate health care for 24 million people, we became part of concerned public health workers who were seeking a way to have a voice. It was an ideal time for a public health organization with a history of taking on tough social justice issues, like Human Impact Partners (HIP), to find a way to bring us together.

At HIP, we not only have the ability to engage in research and advocacy, but also the capacity to organize public health professionals across the country. After the election, we knew we had to revisit our strategies to address the proposed challenges to our professional goals posed by the new administration. We knew then—and we have an even clearer idea now in the face of the latest proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act—that the administration’s agenda threatens many things communities need to be healthy. We knew we needed to dedicate ourselves to protecting initiatives and policies designed to insulate people from the potentially negative impacts of the broader determinants of health and to keeping it real about who is at risk of being most harmed in the process.

To stave off perpetual anger and despair—and to hear how others were strategizing—we at HIP hosted a couple of group calls with 40 of our fellow health equity advocates from across the country. The calls were energizing! Through them, we collectively realized that we needed a space to spur action and use our unique form of power—our evidence, expertise and resources —to protect the health and well-being of communities. Our first step was to create a list serv. We dubbed it Public Health Awakened, and got to work.

Members of the new listserv started off by crowdsourcing a guide for public health departments that turned out to be particularly timely—it highlighted ways to support immigrant health just days after the immigration ban was first issued. As the guide for health departments got distributed beyond our own networks, we decided to open up Public Health Awakened so anyone could apply to join. We weren’t quite prepared for that! Over 200 people joined within 48 hours, and folks are still joining every day! We now have about 800 members split up fairly evenly across government, academia, and nonprofit affiliations. They even volunteered to create slides for the guide and to translate the guide into Spanish and Arabic.

HIP’s work gave us, and many other public health professionals around the country who are now members of Public Health Awakened, a chance to do what we do best—work to protect the health of people across the country by sharing research, resources and the information that just may change hearts and minds.

We are committed to creating a world in which everyone can thrive.

The views presented in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of The New York Academy of Medicine, its Trustees, Officers or Staff.