As the dust settles from unrest in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, the city's health commissioner believes improved public health may help improve its social and economic problems, according to National Public Radio.
Health Commissioner Leana Wen took office just months before Gray's death, and during the demonstrations and riots that followed, she prioritized protecting the city's health infrastructure, making sure staff and patients had access to hospitals and that seniors could still fill prescriptions after area pharmacies were looted or damaged. As the city calmed down, she pointed to issues that have plagued Charm City for years, such as violence, drug abuse and poverty, as problems public health can play a role in solving.
"We have to make the case that actually, everything comes back to health," Wen told NPR in May. "My hope is that we can really make Baltimore into a model for the rest of the country to follow when it comes to treating the core roots of our problems."
Wen described the frustration of treating health problems "at the very end," treating victims of gun violence or drug overdoses in the hospital repeatedly rather than addressing the factors that land them there. In heavily-populated states such as California, this cycle comes with a huge price tag for hospitals, due to both chronic admissions and the victims' tendency to be uninsured, FierceHealthFinance previously reported. Baltimore's low-income areas also suffer from massive unemployment, which is the top socioeconomic determinant of readmissions.
Amid both a surge in Baltimore homicides and a dramatic increase in opioid abuse nationwide, Wen is urging the city's public health officials to seize the opportunity to develop innovative solutions, especially with the city in the spotlight. Hospitals and other providers are often community anchors, Wen wrote in May, and can drive employment and investment in depressed areas, FierceHealthcare previously reported. Furthermore, she wrote, recent hospital payment reforms in Maryland put hospitals in an ideal position to cut disparities.