A Sea of White Coats at the State House
“If any of us are going to have a medical emergency, I suppose this is the time,” we joked among ourselves. As staff from the Massachusetts Association of CDCs (MACDC), we were in a room of about fifty people, and the three of us were among the few not wearing white coats. We weren’t in a medical facility or a medical school classroom, but rather in a room in the State House, meeting with a group who could have been extras on the television show “Grey’s Anatomy.” These medical students had come from Springfield and Worcester to spend a day talking to their legislators about the importance of housing quality to the health of their future patients.
While medical students advocating for funding for improving homes might be unexpected, this event was exactly the type of collaboration which I had imagined when I (Elana) became the first Program Director for Health Equity at MACDC over four years ago. Shortly after I started at MACDC, I worked with other members of the Alliance for Community Health Integration (ACHI) and with hospital representatives to develop Principles for Healthy and Affordable Housing. This document was a list of shared understandings about the ways in which housing impacts the health of Massachusetts residents signed by several major hospitals and the Massachusetts Hospital Association (MHA). The Principles for Affordable Housing served as a gateway for future affordable housing advocacy by medical practitioners. Flash-forward to 2023 and five major hospitals have signed on in support of the Massachusetts Healthy Homes Program (MHHP). MHHP would address a multitude of health hazards and habitability concerns through grants and loans to eligible owner-occupants and loans to investor-owners, with protections for existing tenants.
Building on this support by hospitals, Andrea Freeman at the Public Health Institute of Western Mass. contacted us to let us know Baystate Health would be coordinating a group of medical students from UMass Medical School’s Population-based Urban and Rural Community Health (PURCH) Program to come to the State House to advocate for the MHHP. On May 3rd, we joined the medical students, Andrea, and local legislators at the State House.
The presence of PURCH students at the State House humanized the issue, providing poignant examples of how the Massachusetts Healthy Homes Program can positively impact the lives of individuals and families. We at MACDC believe that as healthcare professionals, medical students – the future doctors - have a unique perspective on the impact of policies on patient care and outcomes. By being aware of health-related policies, they can actively contribute to shaping public health strategies.
It was refreshing to see that students of UMass Medical School believe that advocacy is an essential aspect of the medical profession and for Baystate Health to support the students’ advocacy work. They understand that as doctors they have a professional and ethical responsibility to advocate for the needs of marginalized and underserved communities and to help support resources to which they can refer their future patients. State Senators Manny Cruz and Jake Oliveira and State Representative Shirley Arriaga encouraged these students to use their roles to help address systemic inequalities, promote led abatement and health equity through MHHP, and ensure equitable access to healthcare services!
Inspired by the speeches, the students went around the State House and talked to legislators about co-sponsoring and supporting MHHP. Through their unwavering dedication and ability to connect the dots between health outcomes and living conditions, these students have successfully paved the way for transformative change and a brighter, healthier future for all Massachusetts residents. Their advocacy serves as an inspiring example of the transformative power of passionate individuals working together for the betterment of society.
Check out this news clip to see local coverage of the PURCH day at the State House!