Saturday, January 8, 2011

Making public health sustainable and resilient

NYC is a big place, with lots of stuff going on, and people talking all at once: a challenging place to advance new ideas at the best of times.   In an earlier post on this blog, I set out the theory that the larger discussion of preparing NYC for the future can be positively influenced by planting innovative ideas in very specialized networks and communities.

There are many such networks.   It's not just the upper echelons of the Bloomberg administration and Wall Street financiers.  Local networks include academic organizations, trade and professional associations, bloggers and online columnists with large readerships, and religious communities.  Don't forget civic organizations with diverse neighborhood links and participants.   John Michael Greer has encouraged sustainability activists to join fraternal organizations, like the Masonic Lodge, Kiwanis Club or Rotary, which used to be major players in American culture.

How to pick a network, and work through it to influence a larger community?  

- The network would have to be small enough, and publicly accessible enough, so a handful of cultural activists could identify and contact their gatekeepers. 

- The network has to be sufficiently important to the operations of the larger community so discussions within it quickly diffuse into other powerful networks.

- The innovative material to be presented is critical enough to the interests of the network to be relevant to its gatekeepers, and just provocative enough to be interesting, without crossing into  red zones.

- If the material presents taboo topics or dire consequences, or violates any of countless subtle social norms, automatic shut-off circuits will be activated, resulting in both the material and the messenger being ignored. 

- If the material presents potential responses that offer hope, as well as the risks, and if the responses promised to mitigate other problems already acknowledged within the network, or advanced some elements of the network's agendas - then, the material might be taken up within the network. 

Applying the approach to NYC's health and medical community
One of the best people to do this is public health expert Dan Bednarz, whose articles appear frequently in Energy Bulletin.  As he explains, our current health care system will have to adapt to constraints, and he sets out ways of doing it.  I proposed introducing him to decision makers within this NYC network.  We came up with a draft proposal letter similar to this...

How can we make NYC health institutions both more sustainable and more resilient?

We are arranging NYC presentations by Dan Bednarz, PhD, in spring 2011, and are seeking multiple co-sponsors. The public health and medical communities have not yet been sufficiently engaged in the Bloomberg Administration’s PlaNYC 2030 groundbreaking effort to address climate change and sustainability. As a leading expert on these questions, Dr. Bednarz can stimulate your colleagues to enter the PlaNYC discussion.

He can tailor presentations for physicians and hospital executives about countering threats to the sustainability of current medical systems, or help public health administrators redesign systems to reduce dependence on government funding by increasing community participation and using trained volunteers to disseminate public health information.

As co-editor of Health after Oil, Dr. Bednarz coordinates research and discussions on how healthcare institutions can respond to the unprecedented challenges of rising population pressures, increasingly limited energy supplies, climate change, and the economic disruptions now impacting health care budgets at all levels. He advocates for sustainability strategies that incorporate cost cutting and preventive health care as well as traditional environmental concerns – making this a win-win approach for executives and administrators.

At the invitation of special editor Howie Frumkin, former head of the CDC Center for Environmental Health, Dr. Bednarz, Jeremy Hess, MD and Jessica Pierce, PhD, have submitted “The Health Care System and Petroleum Scarcity” to The American Journal of Public Health for its forthcoming focus issue on peaking petroleum,.

Because modern health care is fundamentally dependent on petroleum, particularly for transport of patients, staff, and supplies, and for pharmaceuticals feedstocks, it is vulnerable to price fluctuations, cost spikes, and scarcity of raw materials. The article will address how health systems can prepare for service disruptions and related sustainability challenges.

Starting March 2011, Dr. Bednarz will be teaching an online course on Sustainable Public Health Systems through Bristol Community College. It will cover how to create a viable 21st century public health system, to reconfigure systems and become more resilient to declining state and local tax bases by developing a new public policy context with a synergistic relationship between professionals and local communities.

Would your organization be interested in co-sponsoring a presentation by Dr. Bednarz on these themes? If so, do you have an easily accessible lecture hall in Manhattan at which this could take place? To raise these topics in the NYC medical and public health community, Dr. Bednarz is able to make such presentations without requiring an honorarium.

Dr. Bednarz can also collaborate on internships and research projects for graduate students in public health, in which interns inventory resilience and sustainability challenges in public health systems, design ecologically sustainable system responses, and build consortiums across health sciences and professions.


Next, I'll contact some local medical and public health schools, and see if I can find a graduate student to do an internship on this project.

Beyond Oil NYC's experiment in open source activism has room for you.  If you think this campaign makes sense, 
your assistance in distributing the message would be most helpful.  I do this stuff for my nonprofit day job all the time, so I can guide volunteers through each step.

Keep it manageable: think of the hospital or health care institution that serves your community.  Go to its website.  Find the contact information for its senior executives and community affairs contacts.  Customize the above letter and email it.  Follow up by phone to describe the project.  It's a great project for current or would-be graduate students, and those between jobs. Contact Beyond Oil NYC.

1 comment:

  1. I am impressed by the forethought of connecting the Public Health system w peak oil issues. I also appreciate how you suggest getting the word out and actions going by joining local established organizations. There's allot of info in your post. Thanks.