This is the fourth in a series of conversations with BUILD awardees in celebration of National Public Health Week. You can read the first here, second here, and third here.

Public health departments are a cornerstone of well-being in our nation. They play a vital role in the community-driven, multi-sector partnerships that are central to our mission at The BUILD Health Challenge® to achieve just health outcomes for all. In celebration of National Public Health Week this week, we would like to highlight the important work that public health agencies have done, and continue to do, as an integral part of their BUILD community, as well as the people behind that work. 

LaVerne Jones, MPH is a public health advisor for DC Health. Her collaborative, part of the second and current BUILD Cohort, is focused on improving the health and wellbeing of children by increasing protective factors through community-led and data-driven solutions designed to support families and improve positive outcomes for kids.

What was your role within your BUILD collaborative? Why did you and your health department decide to get involved in the BUILD project in your community?

When DC Health was approached to partner on the BUILD Health Challenge, we understood the importance of engaging with our community-based and health system partners in addressing chronic disease (i.e. asthma) in the District. Our Director, Dr. LaQuandra S. Nesbit, has been moving our agency to employ the Public Health 3.0 approach of building long-term, strategic partnerships to address complex health problems. The BUILD model fits perfectly in the framework of DC Health’s strategic priorities, especially the priorities to address the social determinants of health; strengthen public-private partnerships; close the chasm between clinical medicine and public health; and implement data-driven, outcome-oriented approaches to program and policy development. 

Building on the last year, which included a racial justice movement, a global pandemic, and a growing economic divide, how do you think public health will be impacted going forward? What do you see your role, and the role of the local public health department, being in this change?

Issues such as racial justice and the economic divide have always been pivotal to public health. Disparities in racial justice and economic status are/will be important drivers in how we respond to the pandemic and continue to address the ongoing epidemics of obesity and violence. Moving forward will require that public health strategists think and act creatively about working with traditional and non-traditional partners to address the root causes of racism and poverty. 

I see the role of DC Health as the driver of change. As public health strategists, it is our role to facilitate opportunities to drive change actively, continuously, and systematically. As a Public Health Advisor at DC Health, I see myself as an agent of change, meaning that I will use my knowledge and skills to facilitate change by making connections and leveraging resources to address existing and emerging concerns such as chronic disease, violence, and housing, using tools such as workforce development, community engagement, and continuous quality improvement in health care delivery systems.  

What is one thing you wish people knew about the work you do?

I think the public still sees DC Health as the place to go for health care clinics, birth certificates, and health fairs. However, it is important to note that DC Health serves as the District’s chief strategic health organization promoting health, wellness, and equity across the District, and protects the safety of residents, visitors, and those doing business in our nation’s capital. 


Adam Britton is an intern with the BUILD Health Challenge. He will graduate from the University of Maryland in May 2021.