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VOL. 126 | NO. 60 | Monday, March 28, 2011

Robinson to Advise County on Public Health Policy

By Aisling Maki

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Dr. Kenneth Robinson, former state health commissioner and county health officer, and current minister at St. Andrew AME Church in South Memphis, was recently appointed public health policy adviser to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.

“Dr. Robinson has a tremendous reputation in the health care industry as someone who’s been very active in the public health field and was the commissioner of public health for the state for four years,” Luttrell said. “He’s also been very active in the Memphis community with his health initiatives, working with our health department for the last few years as our health officer. When I became mayor, I started discussions with him about how we could expand his role to be more community-related, and I have asked him to serve as my personal health care adviser and work out of my office.”

In his new role, Robinson, who made history in his previous role as Tennessee’s first African-American commissioner of health, will work closely with the Shelby County Health Department to assess the health needs of the community and develop a strategic plan that involves both the public and private sectors.

“He has been very effective in a very short time in helping me to convene a meeting of some of the health care providers in the community to really just have a roundtable discussion on how we can approach a very monumental problem,” Luttrell said.

Health issues Robinson will tackle include infant mortality, childhood and adult obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and adolescent pregnancy, all of which Robinson said are often indicators of public health systemic issues that can be significantly impacted by county policy and public health practice.

“Mayor Luttrell has been extraordinarily interested in developing an agenda, which is both a public health and a health care agenda that advances an ethical, practical and fiscally affordable approach to Memphis health and health care issues,” Robinson said.

Robinson said that although Shelby County has the benefit of having top-notch hospital systems and providers, it needs to develop and maintain a system that ensures the provision of equitable access to high-quality care.

Robinson plans to focus on prevention through improved access to primary care physicians and health care access for the uninsured and underinsured.

Prevention through healthy lifestyle practices is a priority for Robinson’s congregation at St. Andrew AME Church, where he has served as pastor since 1991. The church offers an array of preventive health initiatives, including aerobics, athletics, creative arts and youth programs such as step ministry, pregnancy prevention education and liturgical dance.

Since his days at Harvard Medical School, Robinson has been exploring the relationship between faith and health, and the partnership between faith communities and professional medicine.

In addition to a bachelor’s degree cum laude, from Harvard University and a M.D. from Harvard Medical School, Robinson holds a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School, where his honors thesis focused on the interrelationship between religious faith and healing.

“What was of interest to the mayor and, prior to this current position, to (former) Gov. (Phil) Bredesen when I was state health commissioner, is my 30-year involvement with at-risk communities and vulnerable populations and the capacity to translate theory and policy to public health and community practice,” said Robinson, who serves on the board of a number of local health-related entities, including Healthy Memphis Common Table and the Church Health Center.

“For many decades, as a pastor, particularly in the midst of urban African-American communities, I have gained first-hand experience with the issues related to health and health care facing such communities, and with the capacity to bring resources and pragmatic solutions to addressing those issues. It has created a unique nexus between my role as physician and public health administrator and the people who need services and resources to live better, more healthful lives.”

Robinson said tackling the county’s most formidable health issues will involve more than governmental public health; it will require broad-based, multi-sector, multi-lateral community collaboration.

“I’m really grateful that Mayor Luttrell has invited me to share my experience in this role and provide executive level leadership to policy development and formation of strategizing collaborations and approaches to improve the health of the public in Shelby County,” he said.

“Having obviously been integrally involved in looking at the health of the state of Tennessee, it’s gratifying to tackle some of the most ingrained public health issues in Memphis and Shelby County.”

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