A Vision for Public Health in NYC in 2019

The start of a new year means a flurry of resolutions and commitments to make this year even better than the last. As we kick off 2019, we asked our colleagues at the Department of Health what their resolutions were for public health in New York City. From improving healthy food access, to supporting mental health, to ending the HIV and AIDS epidemics, their responses reflect their continued commitment to and passion for improving the health of all New Yorkers.

Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the City’s new Commissioner of Health and the chair of FPHNYC’s board, advocated strongly for the continued efforts of the Department of Health to promote health equity and improve access to care. “Access to health is a human right,” she said. “In 2019, we will continue to serve New Yorkers, regardless of their immigrant or insurance status. Our mission stays the same – to promote and protect the health of all New Yorkers.”

In recent years, FPHNYC has worked closely with the Division of Prevention and Primary Care, which advances population health by promoting high quality primary care and prevention. “New Yorkers can’t make healthy choices if we don’t have healthy choices. Through initiatives like National Salt and Sugar Reduction Initiative (NSSRI) to address the widespread prevalence of added sugars and salt, efforts to reduce smoking, and initiatives to improve access to quality health care, I envision a city where the healthier choice is the easier choice for all,” said Sonia Angell, Deputy Commissioner for Prevention and Primary Care.

Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control has his sights set on ending the spread of HIV and AIDS. “In 2019 we will continue our work towards our goal of ending the HIV and AIDS epidemics in NYC by 2020. I aspire to make New York a status-neutral city where the same approach is used in initial patient care regardless of one’s HIV status,” he said.

It’s still important to remember that not all New Yorkers have access to the same resources; one’s zip code is far too often a predictor of one’s health. To address these issues, Dr. Aletha Maybank, Deputy Commissioner for the Center for Health Equity, committed in 2019 to “Continue to provide support to some of the most resource-deprived neighborhoods in our City by expanding access and utilization of our Neighborhood Health Action Centers, which provide a host of different services and programming where people can connect with their neighbors in Tremont, East Harlem, and Brownsville and surrounding neighborhoods.”

To ensure the next generation of New Yorkers grows up healthy and happy, Roger Platt, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Family and Child Health set his 2019 resolution to “Make NYC a place where children and their families have the best opportunity to grow and thrive through a focus on maternal health, school health and early childhood.”

And with the recent announcement of the expansion of the ThriveNYC initiative, mental health remains a key focal point for the City. Hillary Kunins, Acting Executive Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Mental Hygiene, set out her goals for the New Year. “In 2019,” she said, “we are excited to venture into our 4th year of ThriveNYC and the 3rd year of HealingNYC. These initiatives – focused on mental health broadly and the opioid overdose epidemic respectively – are helping us to take innovative public mental health approaches to prevent illness and death, expand access to effective treatment, build a prepared workforce, and work collaboratively across government and with communities.”

FPHNYC is grateful to work with such inspiring and motivated public health professionals. In the spirit of reflection, here’s a resolution of our own; in 2019, we commit to ensuring even more innovative and exciting public health programs can get off the ground and serve the health needs of New Yorkers. With that goal in mind, we think this year is already looking bright.

If you’d like to support our resolution and contribute to our work, please consider making a donation to FPHNYC. Your gift will support a wide range of public health programs that promote innovation and improve the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers.

Working to Empower HIV Patients and End the Epidemic

As the first health department clinics in the United States to provide immediate on-site access to HIV treatment, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH)’s Sexual Health Clinics offer a lifeline to patients seeking HIV treatment. Patients who enter the clinics unaware that they are HIV-positive or who were previously unable to access HIV treatment (due to lack of access, stigma, or having had difficulty engaging in care) leave feeling empowered to take control of their sexual health. In the words of one 32-year-old patient, “You have no idea how long I have been waiting to start medication for my HIV. It is such a relief to be able to start treatment.”

FPHNYC helps identify funding and facilitates public-private partnerships to advance new public health initiatives. Since 2016, FPHNYC has received $1 million from MAC Cosmetic’s charitable foundation, the MAC AIDS Fund, to enhance DOHMH’s HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) services and programming. This funding facilitated immediate access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for Sexual Health Clinic patients newly diagnosed with HIV, enabling them to control their HIV and achieve and maintain viral suppression so that they do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners. The funding has also helped DOHMH improve the patient experience at the Sexual Health Clinics. With eight locations throughout the city, the Sexual Health Clinics offer safe and affirming spaces to patients of all sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions to access high-quality, status neutral prevention and treatment services. The Sexual Health Clinics see patients who are underserved, underinsured and have barriers to seeking medical care at a primary care facility. Expanding HIV and STI services at the Sexual Health Clinics is one of several NYC Ending the Epidemic strategies to reduce the number new HIV infections in New York City to non-epidemic levels and improve the health and well-being of New Yorkers with HIV.

MAC AIDS Fund provided funding for one of the DOHMH Sexual Health Clinics to pilot JumpstART, a program providing immediate access to ART for patients newly diagnosed with HIV. The successful program has since expanded to all eight Sexual Health Clinics. In 2016 and 2017, the Sexual Health Clinics initiated a total of 149 patients on ART, with 66 percent of them being newly or recently diagnosed with HIV. The MAC AIDS Fund is also helping DOHMH build an online patient portal for Sexual Health Clinic patients to check their HIV and STI test results, communicate with staff, and access educational materials regarding their sexual health.

In 2017, DOHMH announced that 2,157 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in New York City, down 5.4 percent from 2016. More New Yorkers with HIV are receiving care and achieving viral suppression. Also in 2017, 80 percent of people were linked to care within 30 days of their HIV diagnosis, compared to 65 percent in 2013; and among people receiving HIV medical care in New York City in 2017, 85 percent were virally suppressed, compared to 79 percent in 2013. These data show that New York City is on track to achieving our ambitious NYC Ending the Epidemic goals. Together, FPHNYC, DOHMH, and the MAC AIDS Fund provided proof of concept before City funds committed to bringing JumpstART to scale, a critical step in our efforts to end the epidemic.