Dr. Adewale Troutman partners with PolicyLink to convene centers for health equity

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The most important determinant of your life expectancy and your quality of life is your zip code, according to USF College of Public Health’s Dr. Adewale Troutman, associate dean for Health Equity and Community Engagement.

Troutman’s public health passion has been to address health equity and he has taken it a step further by establishing a partnership between the University of South Florida and PolicyLink, a national research institute aiming to advance economic and social equity.

“In a very real way, we have an opportunity to shape the agenda of the nation, by shifting the focus to one that looks at social determinants,” he said.

Adewale Troutman headshot

Adewale Troutman, MD, MPH, CPH

Troutman and PolicyLink have teamed up to examine the way centers for health equity are defined and how they identify their work.

“I reached out to PolicyLink and, sure enough, they were doing the same thing, but they had started their focus on local health departments and I had started my focus on university centers, as well as local health departments. So we decided we’d join forces and start working on this together,” he said.

“We heard from several public health leaders who are working closely with communities to promote health through policy change,” said Stephanie Boarden, PolicyLink senior associate. “Given the national discourse around inequity, there is an opportunity to mobilize these institutions and push the field to address inequitable systems that lead to poor health for low income communities and people of color.”

Troutman was interested in examining how centers for health equity operated and if there was any consistency in the name, mission, resources and staff of the centers.

“My interest was in defining and identifying the new centers for health equity that were sprouting up all over the country,” Troutman said. “Was it just a name change over the years from minority healthy to health equity centers and no change in policy, projects or direction?”

As a result of the partnership, national convenings have been held, including at USF, among leaders of the centers for health equity.

“All the centers that are being defined on the East Coast, and certainly the Eastern half of the U.S., were invited to convene and meet here to have some conversations about who we were, our goals and objectives, why are we doing this work, what are we trying to get to and how we build a national network to work on this notion of policy as the primary vehicle for change,” Troutman said.

A second meeting was held on the West Coast, and a national convening was held at the PolicyLink Equity Summit in Los Angeles in October, an event at which Troutman spoke.

“We understood the immense value in creating a space for them to convene to share learning and build a community of support,” said Dalila Butler, PolicyLink senior associate.

More than 3,000 people came together to work on equity issues, including the role of strategically defining and streamlining the goals of centers for health equity across the nation, Troutman said.

“If the partnership raises the awareness of these issues across the entire nation and develops its strategic plan to address these issues, then we would have made a major contribution to improving the health of the country,” he said. “APHA is in the beginning stages of its commitment to have the healthiest nation in the generation; as former president, I was quick to point out that you can’t have the healthiest nation unless you address the issue of health equity. If you maintain the gap, no matter how this looks, you’re never going to get to place where you get to the healthiest generation.”

Healthy generation

Troutman said USF’s role in the partnership is also to discuss what’s next nationally in regard to changing the focus of health education from the medical model to a population health and social determinants health model.

“One of the things we’re all talking about is how to use GIS mapping to identify rates of illness and death and disease, all of the social factors, and put them on a graphic map which can be shown to legislators, community groups and other folks to demonstrate where the issues are and help to make it clear that if you look at this particular zip code, not coincidentally, they have shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, higher rates of homicide and suicide, high rates of hypertension, diabetes, and the list goes on,” Troutman said. “Clearly, it indicates that there is something that we’re not doing that has to focus on a broader concept of making this stretch more than just looking at the medical model, it’s not just building more clinics and training more doctors, that’s not going to make a difference.”

The partnership is currently in a strategic development stage, according to Troutman, focusing efforts on reaching out to more centers of health equity and establishing contacts to increase collaboration at convenings.

“We have a lot of work to do, just in getting centers we’ve been talking with to start thinking in this direction, the social determinants direction, this upstream thinking direction,” he said. “If we can get to a point where we have centers all over the country, health departments all over the country, both local and federal, all thinking this way, well, now there’s an opportunity to make a significant change in the health status in the entire nation and that’s the ultimate objective.”

To learn more about this partnership or to get involved, please contact Dalila Butler, PolicyLink senior associate at Dalila@policylink.org.

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health