Media Contact: Veronica Mikitka Reed 215.434.7194 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Public Health Management Corporation's Mayoral Forum Highlights Key Public Health Issues in Philadelphia

[Philadelphia, PA] – April 17, 2015 – Six mayoral candidates addressed critical public health issues in front of more than 200 people at Public Health Management Corporation’s (PHMC) Mayoral Candidates' Forum on Public Health, held yesterday at PHMC’s headquarters in Philadelphia. 

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, Judge Nelson Diaz, former Philadelphia City Council member Jim Kenney, Melissa Murray Bailey, Doug Oliver, and Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams all participated. WHYY’s Chris Satullo moderated the event.

Candidates addressed key issues facing Philadelphians, including access to care, challenges facing social service agencies, public health innovation, city government opportunities, research and evaluation, and policy development. Included in the discussion were preliminary data from the 2015 Community Health Data Base’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey (HHS), the region’s most comprehensive health survey covering 10,000 randomly selected households in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties. Full survey results will be released in June 2015.

“As the region’s Public Health Institute and leader in public health, PHMC was honored to convene Philadelphia’s mayoral candidates in a discussion on critical topics impacting our city and communities,” said Richard J. Cohen, PHMC President and CEO. “The upcoming election creates an important moment in our city’s history where we can engage leaders and partners across multiple sectors to create an impactful public health dialogue with the new administration. We were pleased to hear the candidates’ agreement that strong, strategic partnerships with outsourced entities such as PHMC can be an effective and efficient means of delivering needed services to our communities.”

Candidates discussed how public health is a critical issue encompassing the election, from poverty and job creation, to social determinants of health and gun violence. Candidates acknowledged the depth of public health and social service subject matter expertise in the room, expressing the need to listen and learn to help inform their policies.

Key themes from the afternoon included:

Access to Care:

Philadelphia is known as a “medical Mecca,” yet many neighborhoods are medically underserved. While the latest CHDB data indicates that insurance coverage rates in Philadelphia are improving, having insurance and having access to care are not the same thing, as Senator Williams pointed out.

To address this issue, the candidates highlighted the need to audit the current system to look at how they can improve how the City administers services. They also addressed the need for the City to better understand what services they excel at, and what services can be easily outsourced to organizations, such as PHMC, with the expertise and efficiency for execution. Oliver proposed creating four individual task forces – City Agencies, Social, Nonprofit and Eds and Meds – to discuss how best to administer services.

During a live polling session at the Forum, attendees reported that education was the number one public health issue facing Philadelphia, a sentiment that was echoed repeatedly by several candidates. As Kenney stated, “The sooner we address kids’ education and make the school environment better, the sooner the delivery of health services will be better.”
Senator Williams commented that “public health mirrors public education”, and when underfunded, disparities exist. Judge Diaz discussed wrapping services for better outcomes.

Service Fragmentation, Integration and Leadership:

Fragmented services continue to be a concern, with primary health not connected to behavioral health or the Department of Human Services. Across the board, candidates concurred that the current system is too fragmented to deliver care efficiently and effectively. All agreed there are opportunities to streamline processes by bringing City departments together and working with Philadelphia’s abundant nonprofits and community organizations.

Senator Williams called for earlier assessment and behavioral health diagnosis to mitigate issues later, and Murray Bailey encouraged focusing on prevention and addressing the root cause of an issue rather than managing the issue as it progresses.

Public Health Innovation:

Candidates highlighted the fact that Philadelphia is truly the “medical mecca” of the United States with more than 80 hospitals and health systems, but these state-of-the-art services need to trickle down to communities in order to be truly effective. Fostering innovation at the community level is key to improving Philadelphia’s poor health indicators. Candidates stressed the importance of working with the City’s existing resources.

Senator Williams suggested, as an example of innovation, providing services in community facilities like schools and shopping centers as “multilevel activity” centers. Kenney and Murray Bailey also supported partnering with schools, where we can make the biggest impact on kids. Kenney also suggested looking at other cities like Boston to derive best practices and then tailor it for Philadelphia.

Across the board, communication is key. “The Mayor’s role is to facilitate conversations between different groups, not be the smartest guy in the room,” said Oliver.

City Government Challenges and Opportunities:

Many nonprofit and private organizations that contract with the city have experienced a complex contracting system that can take up to six or seven months to finalize. Candidates agree that the contracting problems extend beyond health care partners to the entire City contracting system. The current system is too complicated, with many duplicative processes and myriad approvals. Bailey and Kenney both indicate that they want to hear from contractors and use that information to inform and improve the system.

“One of the biggest problems with the current system is that we are limiting our talent pool because there are many great companies that don’t want to do business with us,” said Senator Williams.

“Government needs to be open to the fact that they are serving the people,” added Abraham. “Contractors are not interlopers, they are partners.”

Candidates concurred with the idea to strategically utilize outside entities that can more easily carry out government programs, such as managing and paying contracts.

Data, Surveillance, Research and Evaluation and Policy Development:

As is evident from the public health indicators, investment in public health infrastructure, data such as community health databases, and surveillance is critical to monitor progress and fund community-based interventions. Programmatic research and evaluation, as well as translation of existing data sources to inform health programs and policy can be key to any Mayor’s success. Independent non-profit agencies, such as public health institutes like PHMC, are uniquely situated to provide non-biased analysis and engage multiple stakeholders in discussion and action.

Candidates felt strongly about partnering with existing groups like PHMC’s community health database, highlighting how important it is when making relevant health decisions for the city.

“We are pleased with yesterday’s dialogue on important public health issues and ways in which we can create partnerships between the public, private and nonprofit sectors,” said Tine Hansen-Turton, PHMC’s Chief Strategy Officer. “We look forward to working closely with the next Mayor to achieve our common goal of creating healthier communities.”