By Chris Adams
Dr. Bechara Choucair has worked public health strategies from both public and private sectors, and in both he had found that one of the best strategies is to avoid going it alone.
Choucair is the chief community health officer for the health system Kaiser Permanente; his role is to oversee Kaiser’s philanthropic giving, work with government benefit programs such as Medicaid, and expand the system’s community health leadership initiatives.
The reason is simple, he told National Press Foundation fellows: Of all the factors that impact health, only 10 percent to 20 percent come from what happens inside a medical facility.
“If we are truly about improving people’s health and well-being, we need to be thinking about what happens outside the four walls of a hospital,” he said.
At Kaiser, he focuses on underserved and vulnerable populations, and he partners with local elected officials and city staff. The “Healthy Eating Active Living” – HEAL – program works with officials in five states to get healthier food into the hands of children and adults. In Colorado, for example, the initiative combats food insecurity among Kaiser Permanente members and nonmembers through an organization called Hunger Free Colorado.
Before his private-sector work, Choucair was commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health and worked to tackle issues such as obesity, teen pregnancy and untreated mental illness. His efforts there included a provocative advertising campaign that showed teenage boys as pregnant; the tagline on the photos was “Unexpected?” The campaign involved just a few billboards with the images – but generated widespread media coverage.
His department also used social media to address the problem of underreported food poisoning cases. Knowing that only half of such cases are reported to public officials, Chicago began tracking food-poisoning related tweets, interacting with the tweeters to get more information and to urge them to report the episode. Nearly 90 percent of the people they reached out to responded.