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DOH Commissioner Plans to Tackle Health Disparities Head-On

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The city's new health commissioner recently took a trip to Brooklyn to meet some of her staff working to combat widening health disparities. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Dr. Mary Bassett made her first visit to one of the city's District Public Health Offices as the new health commissioner last week. It was a homecoming of sorts. The Brooklyn office staff gave her a warm welcome back.

It's been over 10 years since the DPHOs were established, in part, by Bassett when she was a Deputy Health Commissioner with the Bloomberg administration. There's one in Harlem, the South Bronx and in Central Brooklyn. Each have the goal of creating targeted programs for the communities most in need of intervention. Bassett says a main goal of her tenure will be to grow and strengthen the role of these offices.

"What we're going to be doing in the years ahead is directly tackling and reducing disparities in health," says Bassett.

The staff in Brooklyn got Bassett up to speed on their progress, including advocating for more bike lines, expanding their prenatal and postpartum initiatives for mothers and conducting free exercise and nutrition programs - all with the support of groups already active in the surrounding Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York and Brownsville communities.

"We as the health department and other partners, we're just facilitators in the process. If you think about any movement that happens, it has to start with those that are experiencing the injustice," says Brooklyn District Health Office Assistant Commissioner Dr. Aletha Maybank.

Bassett says the groundwork laid by the Brooklyn office is an example of what she wants to see more of. It's a departure from the Bloomberg Administration's top-down approach to public health policy.

"The problem with the 'Do this, do that' approach is that it doesn't engage the people who have to take ownership of the changes that have to happen," says Bassett.

Still, the work at the Brooklyn office is an uphill battle. The data paints a picture of communities consistently plagued with the worst health outcomes in the city.

"Obesity, diabetes...the disparities are widening. That's why we have to focus on communities that have a high disease burden," says Bassett.

Bassett plans to visit the South Bronx office at the end of the month.

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