Our featured Detroit URC Board Member for this issue is the incomparable Dr. Kimberlydawn Wisdom, MD, MS, Senior Vice President of Community Health and Equity, and Chief Wellness and Diversity Officer at HFHS.
She is a board-certified emergency medicine physician, Chair of the Gail and Lois Warden Endowment on Multicultural Health, and a member of the Advisory Committee on Minority Health. In 2003, she was appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm as the nation’s first state-level surgeon general. In 2012 she was appointed by President Obama to serve on the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health.
Dr. Wisdom focuses on health care equity, infant mortality, maternal and child health, chronic disease, physical inactivity, unhealthy eating habits, and tobacco use. She provides strong leadership in diversity, population health, and improving the health of those disproportionately affected by poor health outcomes. She founded the award-winning program – the African American Initiative for Male Health Improvement (AIM–HI) and the Women Inspired Neighborhood (WIN) Network: Detroit to reduce infant mortality. As Michigan’s surgeon general, she founded the nationally known Generation With Promise program - a youth leadership and empowerment effort now housed at the HFHS.
Under her leadership, the health system has received numerous awards for its equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, including the American Hospital Association Equity of Care Award in 2015, and No. 2 ranking on DiversityInc’s 2017 Top Hospitals and Health Systems list. Recipient of numerous awards, Kimberlydawn is responsible for hundreds of publications and presentations, appeared on national television, including ABC’s Nightline, and has presented to audiences across the country. In the very little spare time that she has, she has also dedicated herself to becoming an accomplished pianist.
Kimberlydawn recently took time out of her extremely busy schedule to talk about her long history of working with the Detroit URC.
How did you first get involved with the Detroit URC?
I had heard about the Detroit URC initially from my colleagues at U-M and I believe I formally became involved with the Detroit URC in 2007, when I was asked to serve on board after I returned from serving as surgeon general for the state. I was just honored to be invited to serve on the board.
How has serving on the board helped you advance your or HFHS’s mission?
For one, the competencies of the really stellar team of professionals, including Barbara Israel, who is one of the leaders in community-based participatory research (CBPR), around the table is pretty amazing! Understanding CBPR at a deeper level and understanding how it can apply to our work has been one significant way that being involved with the Detroit URC board has been so instrumental and helpful for the HFHS. Having the ability to have those kinds of skill sets right within our own community and obtaining guidance from those types of people on various initiatives has been invaluable!
The CBPR framework has been really instrumental in guiding our community health work to be very intentional about being inclusive -- to listen to the community and to value very diverse team members from anchor and non-anchor organizations. It has just been a great approach.
Additionally, I would say that HFHS has also benefited from the relationships that we have developed over many, many years, as well as the networking and just the exposure.
Furthermore, it presents us with many collaborative opportunities. Periodically, I am approached to help get various projects off the ground. The opportunity to identify ways that we can collaborate in deeper and more meaningful ways definitely exists.
Additionally, my connection to the Detroit URC enhances HFHS’s access to resources. Take, for example, some of the work that Amy Schulz has done regarding walking clubs in Detroit neighborhoods. We have sat down with her team and explored it fairly comprehensively. There have been various challenges, for example, needing to write additional grants in order to finance it in the long term. However, we are still in conversation. Sometimes circumstances evolve in a way that shows that the group was just a little bit ahead of their time. We try not to lose sight of that vision and maintain the desire to work together. I am confident that things will ultimately materialize.
For instance, many of us have been supporting the role of community health workers and the value that they bring. Twenty years ago, when people started talking in that realm, the community health worker model was not embraced. However, now it is seeing a lot of traction. Even the American Hospital Association is publishing some documents around the value that community health workers bring to health care and health endeavors more generally. Whether it is a walking club or a community health initiative, I could see how various efforts could emerge around community health and community benefits.
Several efforts are kind of at a place where they are evolving. There really could be some strong collaboration, but at the onset, maybe it did not occur. These relationships are for the long term. Even if something does not work out in the short term, I am pretty confident that in the long term, they will work out well. They will be productive and deliver on some significant outcomes.
Is there anything you would add about what you gain from being on the Board?
I enjoy the opportunity to advocate on behalf of the Detroit URC, whether it is talking to the dean of the school or the provost of the university. , I have the opportunity to speak with them, but also I enjoy, as a board member, supporting the Detroit URC because, at my core, I truly, deeply believe in the values of the Detroit URC and I care about the board members and our partnersthe people. It has become a family of sorts. They are just genuinely fantastic people. They are smart and they are caring and it is one of the most enjoyable boards that I have been on because of that. So I very much enjoy advocating for them.
I remember several years ago, when the 20th anniversary of the Detroit URC was celebrated, Barbara and the rest of the board members invited Dr. David Satcher to speak. When he was at the CDC, he was actually the person who created the whole mechanism of urban research center funding. He established urban research centers across the country.
Of course he was my mentor when I served as state surgeon general. He has been my mentor since 2003. Of course, he was the 16th US Surgeon General and I was the first state level Surgeon General. I reached out to him shortly after I assumed my post in the Granholm administration to seek his guidance. Being able to reach out to him and have him provide the keynote remarks for the Detroit URC’s 20th anniversary was quite a treat. While I may have contributed to the Detroit URC, I also gained a lot in terms of being able to see him again and hear about how he established urban research centers across the country. It was a win-win across the board. And it was a win for him as well. He was so excited to see the tremendous progress that had been made by the Detroit URC.
When Dr. Satcher was the professor and chairman of the Department of Community Medicine and Family Practice at Morehouse School of Medicine, he invited me to provide the commencement address for his outgoing group of medical students and he then gave me an honorary doctorate from the Morehouse School of Medicine. It was a pleasure to reach out to him on behalf of the Detroit URC and invite him to come and address the attendees and celebrate with us.
What initiatives are you currently working on and what are your goals for the next year?
One effort is from a broad public health policy standpoint. I am working on creating opportunities for every state and territory to have the ability to have a state level surgeon general. I would refer readers who want more background on the issue to the May issue of “The Nation’s Health,” the American Public Health Association’s newspaper.
After I was appointed 16 years ago, I was on a mission to not be the only state surgeon general in the country and also to not have the Michigan state level surgeon general be just sort of one off or a blip and then it would be gone. I wanted to really establish the post as a structural, key part of state government, driving public health and public policy.
After I was appointed as state surgeon general in 2003 by Governor Granholm, Dr. Huckabee appointed a surgeon general in Arkansas in 2007. Then shortly thereafter, a surgeon general was appointed in Florida. Then no other new states appointed surgeon generals since that time.
In January of this year, Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, appointed Dr. Nadine Burke Harris as their first state surgeon general. So I was just elated, in part, because part of this mission that I had been on.
In 2016, I worked at National Academy of State Health Policy and actually co-published an issue brief that is on the National Academy of State Health Policy website. This issue brief introduces this model of state surgeons general, and compares and contrasts the different states’ surgeons general across the country. We also discuss some of the challenges and some of the opportunities that could exist around that post.
I did a Huffington Post blog about it and I tried talking about it in national media. I heard a little bit of interest here and there but nothing substantial. And then in January of this year, California appointed a state surgeon general, and I thought “Wow - this is great!”
About a month into her post, she reached out to me and said that she read everything she could find about the state attorney general post, but she would love to talk with me more and learn more about it. I would love to work with her and also see how we can collaborate to see how we can develop a guide or roadmap for other states that want to embrace the state attorney general model and then have it spread nationally.
Another initiative that I am working on pertains to the CBPR and the social determinants of health. I recently spoke about the CBPR model at the Alliance for Health Policy meeting in Washington. Another former state surgeon general and I were on a panel, talking about the perspectives of state surgeons general on the social determinants of health. So that was kind of fun too -- to see that we are getting a little bit of traction. To even be asked to speak on this topic was great. Hopefully, it generated more interest among states and other states will be more willing to embrace it.
We are also doing a lot on the intersection of health and housing, working on efforts related to food insecurity. We received funding from the USDA. We have a major initiative focused on the reduction of infant mortality and we are moving into the arena addressing maternal mortality, i.e. how to reduce and ultimately eliminate maternal mortality.
Those are just a few of the initiatives. We have a lot of very exciting things going on. For instance, reimbursement for community health workers is also another big initiative that we have been addressing as well.
At our core, we want to insure that we engage key stakeholders in our community, as well as community members themselves. It is important to us to have both stakeholders and community members represented when we are shaping initiatives -- whether it is policy efforts around community health workers or our practice efforts and programs.
Is there anything that you wish that more people knew about Henry Ford Health System?
I wish they knew how committed we are to community, community health, public health, and population health. We have been in existence now for 103 years. We are based in the city of Detroit, but we have a footprint across four counties now: Wayne, Oakland, Maccomb, and Jackson. This is one of the best kept secrets.
Another thing that many people do not know is that, while we are not a university per say, we do have researchers and bring in about 100 million in grant funding a year on average.
HFHS has made a major commitment to the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion. We have been in the top 10 in terms of diversity awards in the last decade. That is another best kept secret. It is because of our supplier diversity, our equity work, as well as our workforce diversity. We train over 1,000 residents and medical students per year in our graduate medical education training program, in probably every specialty. We provide high quality health care and are working to improve our health care outcomes even more.
The HFHS was founded by the automotive pioneer Henry Ford himself and we believe that innovation is in our DNA, because he was a premier innovator and innovation is in our DNA. Embracing, encouraging and supporting innovation is actually in the spirit of our organization.
Previous Interviews With Board Partners
Zachary Rowe, Executive Director of Friends of Parkside
Joneigh Khaldun, Director and Health Officer at the Detroit Health Department
Suzanne Cleage, Director of Neighborhood Growth at Eastside Community Network
Lidia Reyes-Flores, Executive Director of Latino Family Services
Guy O. Williams, President and CEO of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice
Sheilah Clay, President and CEO of Neighborhood Service Organization
Angela G. Reyes, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation