Community Forum Focuses on Public Health

Chelsea Black Community/Chelsea Young Adult Alliance focused on public health with their latest virtual community conversation on Tuesday evening.

The groups have been meeting with city and school departments to discuss the progress since the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020. Tuesday, Chelsea Public Health Director Flor Amaya highlighted how the city’s vaccination efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic can serve as a model for addressing a wide range of public health issues, especially for the city’s BIPOC population.

“I think the way the community approached Covid vaccination rates was an example of how to bring health equity into the forefront,” said Amaya. “Representation is really important for trust building, so really relying on our trusted leaders, community based organizations to really help out with that messaging. It’s important to continue assessing what are the barriers even when access is there for people to go through the door and get the services that they need.”

The community meetings allow each department to publicly discuss its efforts to address disparities, highlight progress made in the last two years, and share plans of action and goals to reduce community and systemic inequalities over the next three months.

Amaya said she is proud of the way the city came together to ensure Chelsea ended up with one of the highest vaccination rates in the state, adding that the cooperation can be a starting point in addressing equity in public health issues.

“When I think of the future of the public health department, it’s really using that as the jumpstart, the platform,” Amaya said.

Addressing public health issues, especially those that impact traditionally marginalized communities, will take continued cooperation and outreach between city departments and outside providers and organizations, Amaya said.

“Public health is an intersection of our lived environment, and it’s not just one department making it all happen, it would be impossible, the department of public health in Chelsea is literally two people,” said Amaya. “It really takes all of us, because if we are thinking of health equity, it is individuals’ ability to achieve their maximum health potential without being impacted or disadvantaged by social systems that are in place. We can only achieve that by working across departments and across the different structures that create a public health system.”

During a robust question and answer session, Amaya was asked about the steps the public health department and the city are taking to address mental health issues in the city.

“When you are primarily a BIPOC environment, you tend to see mental illness among BIPOC individuals, it’s criminalized sometimes,” said Jayde Umemba of the CBC.

Amaya said the city currently contracts with CAPIC to provide wraparound services including health services and clinical care. She said the city also has a Navigator program where people can respond to and identify avenues of help for residents who may have mental health issues.

“They are currently out in the community, building trust with a ‘hello, hi, how are you,’ because it takes time for our residents who are suffering from substance use disorders and mental illness to trust individuals and trust that we are there for their best interests,” Amaya said. “Through this pipeline, through identifying residents who may need help, building that trust, I think they are able to better refer them, whether it is to counseling at Suffolk Mental Health or for immediate acute response.”

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