Berkeley is gearing up for a series of town hall meetings about the state of public health in the city to allow community members to share their thoughts and concerns regarding the improvement of city-wide health priorities.
The discussions are envisioned as a collaboration between Berkeley’s Public Health Division and the community in a “shared effort” to realign public health resources to communities with the greatest needs.
Berkeley released a Health Status Report in 2013 that outlined issues of health inequities between different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups in the city, prompting a report to the Berkeley City Council recommending that the health division prioritize work to diminish these disparities. It was the city’s first health status update since 2007.
“One of the challenges that we give to ourselves is how can we be sure that even though we’re small, we’re doing the very best that we can to address the health issues in Berkeley that are of top concern to the community, and to us,” said Dr. Janet Berreman, Berkeley’s director of public health.
The report listed statistics evidencing that African American and Latino residents residing predominately in South Berkeley were more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease, and more often lack access to health services than white residents in North Berkeley.
Berreman said community meetings to identify health priorities are standard after the city releases a health update. “It’s been done in the past. Every time we release new information about the health of our city, we want to have a discussion about it,” she said.
Berreman added that, since the release of the 2013 health report, the city has been focused on looking at health issues “through the lens of health equality.”
The upcoming meetings have been broken up by geographic location: the discussion for North and West Berkeley residents will be held Tuesday, May 26, from 5-7 p.m. at the West Berkeley Library Branch. The meeting for South Berkeley residents is scheduled for Tuesday, June 16, from 5-7 p.m. at the South Berkeley Senior Center.
“Community involvement is key to public health,” according to a prepared statement from the city released Wednesday.
Berreman echoed the importance of public involvement in the upcoming discussions.
“The numbers and data we have are medical, and are not necessarily aligned with the experiences of the people living in Berkeley,” she said.
The city is looking for leaders from “communities most impacted by health disparities,” including African Americans, Latinos and children. Interested community members can contact Kristina@brightresearchgroup.com or call 510-501-2095.
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Emily Dugdale, a graduate of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is a summer intern at Berkeleyside.