What is Health?
For an individual, health is physical and mental freedom from acute illness, chronic disease and injury reflecting a good diet, adequate exercise, environmental and behavioral safety and genetic good luck. Individual health outcomes are greatly affected by socio-economic and community-level factors such as access to affordable healthy food, opportunities for exercise, recreation, supportive relationships, degree of exposure to environmental toxins and unsafe conditions, and the quality of one’s education and housing. The health sector includes both health care, which encompasses the private and public infrastructure designed to diagnose and treat disease and illness, and public health resources for health promotion and disease prevention through public education campaigns, on-site programs and services and public policy as well as community-wide responses to natural disasters and epidemics.
THE HEALTH SECTOR IN BOSTON
Bostonians’ health reflects their relative access to opportunities for healthy exercise and a healthy diet, clean air and water, home and community safety as well as health care coverage and treatment. Surrounded by almost unparalleled health care resources, Bostonians nevertheless embody a wide range of health outcomes, with deep disparities reflecting household income, race/ethnicity and zip code.
The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services coordinates statewide regulations and policies, including implementation of Massachusetts’ health reform legislation, which mandated almost universal health care coverage through a “Connector” linking individuals and companies seeking coverage to health insurers at community rates, with quality and fiscal oversight as well as links to the federal Medicaid and Medicare programs.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) -- part of the Commonwealth’s Health and Human Services Cabinet along with the Department of Mental Health, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Youth Services – coordinates statewide health policy, focuses on community health and well-being and is responsible for the state’s response to public health emergencies and epidemics.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health offers a wide range of preventive and health-promoting programs, from the statewide Mass In Motion program designed to reduce overweight and obesity rates, to smoking cessation programs, public education campaigns, preventive health outreach and screening and emergency preparedness.
The Boston Public Health Commission is a descendant of the nation’s first public health department, whose first commissioner was none other than Paul Revere. Boston Public Health Commission promulgates city policy and offers a variety of citywide and community-based initiatives designed to promote health, prevent injury and disease and address deep disparities in health outcome by household income, race/ethnicity and neighborhood. Its initiatives range from campaigns such as Boston Moves for Health to public education about health risks to policy interventions such as the 2008 ban on trans fats in all Boston food-serving establishments.
Massachusetts is also home to three of the nation’s top-ranked health insurers, nonprofit Blue Cross Blue of Massachusetts Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan.
Boston’s world-renowned health care system includes three major nonprofit insurers, 22 in patient hospitals – of which 14 are teaching hospitals and three medical schools. The Harvard Medical School, Tufts Medical School, BU School of Medicine, Harvard School of Public Health and BU School of Public Health together create a global node of academic expertise, attracting talent and research funding to the city. Boston’s Longwood Medical and Academic Area alone concentrates 37,000 employees and 15,000 students.
Boston’s community health centers and others throughout the Commonwealth are linked by Boston-based Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. Its affiliate the Boston Conference of Health Centers serves as a forum for discussion and dialogue and mutual problem solving among Boston’s 25 community health centers. Boston’s community health centers – many cited as among the best in the nation – provide high quality primary care services, particularly in historically underserved Boston’s neighborhoods. Many offer specific cultural and linguistic competence. With their focus on outreach and a comprehensive approach that connects individual health to community well-being, these neighborhood-based institutions anchor a wide range of activities and programs.
Boston and Cambridge are also the center of a globally significant life sciences “super cluster” coordinated by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. Anchored in the region’s teaching hospitals, pharmaceutical industry, medical devices industry, biotechnology industry and private research companies, it is also the nation’s largest, according to the Milken Institute.
The Commonwealth’s public health resources are complemented by a range of nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups focused on family, community and workplace health such as the Massachusetts Public Health Association and Health Law Advocates.
In Boston, these include the Boston Housing Authority’s Resident Health Advocate program, school-based efforts through the Boston Public Schools Health and Wellness Department. Youth-serving wellness resources include in school partnerships such as Play Works, which seeks to boost physical activity in schools through activity bursts and recess, before-school programs such as Body by Brandy and after-school and summer programs such the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center, the nation’s oldest minority-owned tennis center in the nation, YMCA’s throughout the city and YWCA Boston.
Boston is also home to the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective’s and health education publications such as Our Bodies, Our Selves.
Finally, the Boston-Cambridge region is home to such renowned global health initiatives as Partners in Health and the Global Health Collaborative.