News: Moving beyond a disease focus to a healthier Durham

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Over a year ago, several leaders in Durham began discussing how to “move the dial” on the health of Durham residents – especially those who struggle with basic necessities. Collaborative, community-based, health-promotion programs – like Senior PharmAssist – have been working alongside other health and social service agencies/institutions for years to address gaps in healthcare. In fact, Senior PharmAssist has been at it for 23 years as of June 23rd!


However, collectively, we have not done all that we can – in part because we operate in funding silos with short-term objectives. In fact, the most recent NC community health rankings place Durham at #15 (with neighbors Wake and Orange counties in the #1 and #2 slots respectively). While Durham is flourishing in many obvious ways – witness our changing skyline – we know that everyone is not thriving. So, what needs to happen in Durham to ensure that neighbors of all ages have a shot at a healthy life?


Experts are now telling us, and frankly we have known it for a long time, that moving toward long-lasting health improvements will require stepping outside our healthcare silos to address other factors that influence well-being. These are called social determinants of health. They include issues like decent and affordable housing, access to affordable and healthy foods, jobs that pay a living wage, an education system that we are all proud of, access to dental health services, etc.


Several months ago, Executive Director Gina Upchurch, as co-chair of the Partnership for a Healthy Durham, was asked to join the newly established Healthy Durham 20/20 “convening group.” On June 9th, Healthy Durham 20/20 hosted the community-wide Durham Health Summit. At the summit we heard from leaders in Baltimore about how they are engaging community members, leaders at Johns Hopkins University and others to facilitate job creation, improved education, etc. We also heard loud and clear that decisions in Durham need to be grounded by the voices of those who would likely be most affected by any initiative in Durham.

Currently, Health Durham 20/20 is trying to organize “sectors.” For example, we need businesses to collectively discuss what they are capable of doing to address health concerns (including social determinants) and to share what they may need from other sectors, such as governmental partners. The current sectors include government (City and County), faith communities, education, community-based nonprofit organizations, philanthropic organizations and healthcare delivery institutions. After the sectors define what they can contribute and what support they need, they can help push each other to create the outcomes we need for a healthier Durham.

One of the driving tenets of the work is that we don’t want to do for others what they would not do for themselves, if given an opportunity. Community members who struggle the most in Durham are encouraged to share their thoughts to help craft long-term sustainable solutions. If you want to be engaged, please contact Niasha Fray, the Healthy Durham 20/20 coordinator at 919.684.8308 or

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