Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department rolls out new initiatives to improve public health
Nashville’s Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) is rolling out new initiatives to address violence and improve public health in the city.
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MPHD officials held a town hall event at Lee Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church Monday night to focus on improving public health. Dr. Melva Black, MPHD deputy director, said acknowledging violence as a public health crisis challenges community members to view violence through a broader lens.
“Which leads us to consider the underlying social determinants that contribute to violent behaviors such as poverty, lack of access to education, unemployment, substance abuse, and systemic inequalities,” Black said. “Additionally, we become compelled to address violence, not only as isolated incidents, but as symptoms of deeper societal issues that require comprehensive interventions.”
Tene Franklin, chair of the Metropolitan Board of Health, noted that North Nashville (representing the 37208 zip code) had a 42 percent child poverty rate compared to a 14.4 percent national rate in 2019. The area has a median household income of approximately $54,000 a year, and a poverty rate of nearly 29.3 percent, she said.
“That’s double the rate of other zip codes in Nashville, Murfreesboro, and Franklin. Violence impacts us because violence is a public health concern. It impacts our life expectancy, our birth outcomes, and our ability to live healthier lives. We know that high rates of poverty often correlate with high rates of crime and incarceration.”
MPHD is conducting listening sessions with local high school students in order to improve public health, Black said.
“Last week, we held our first session at (Stratford STEM Magnet High School) in dialogue with young people, learning about their experiences on violence and ideas to mitigate it,” Black said. “The data will help inform us about how to implement violence prevention strategies. We are currently working with (Nashville Metropolitan Public Schools) leaders to schedule sessions at all Nashville high schools.”
MPHD is also expanding its mental health services to include clinical practitioners stationed at each of its city clinics to help improve public health access, Black said.
“Everyone in our community will have access to mental health services. Our chief aim is preventive health. To that end, we are working daily to ensure the health and safety for everyone in our community.”
The event featured a panel in which community advocates discussed challenges to public health and how to address them. The Southern Movement Committee’s Jamel Campbell-Gooch noted that community infrastructure needs are exacerbating public health challenges.
Campbell-Gooch said many public areas—including schools and Elizabeth Park—are lacking necessary sidewalks, and local basketball courts don’t have lights. He said this is particularly frustrating because the city’s budget had a $64 million surplus last year.
“There is enough money in the budget to make sure that the basic things outside your house are taken care of. And the fact that they’re not taken care of shows that there’s an issue of political will that exists in Nashville. We see the money. The money continuously gets caught at the top to make sure big businesses that are coming in and relocating here have the best opportunity to succeed while the people aren’t seeing the investment they need.”
Ron Johnson, community safety director at Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s Office, said it is imperative that community members and organizations working to improve public health have the resources they need.
“What we need to do more than anything is make sure that those groups and people are resourced,” Johnson said. “As politicians, we think we know what the people in the community need without asking the question of what we can do to help you. And we need to invest in the people who have access to things we don’t have access to.”