I just wrote a about a really upbeat topic for Isthmus. There is an exciting new trend in public health nursing that really gets at the heart of the problem.
Keeping their candles burning was a challenge in the falling temperature and rising wind as 150 committed Southwest Madison residents gathered in Hammersley Park in late November to walk the half-mile to Falk Elementary School. The crowd assembled in response to racist graffiti spray-painted in red the week before on fences and buildings in the neighborhood.
The march, meal and discussion that followed in the school gym were a public display of the Southwest Community Organizing Committee flexing its new muscle. Strength has always been associated with health, so perhaps it’s not surprising that this community organization owes its existence to a small team of nurses in the Department of Public Health for Madison and Dane County.
Kim Neuschel, one of six nurses who form the health equity team, watched approvingly as people poured into Falk School. She checked with members of the organizing committee to make sure each table had a facilitator, then took the mike to set the agenda.
“They are the key,” Ald. Steve King says of the nurses. “What public health has done is the model for partnering with neighborhood associations and plugging in holistically. They are looking for root causes for what’s going on. Kim has connected the dots for everyone, making people think about the socioeconomic issues in a different way.”
Sheray Wallace, a long-term resident and member of the Southwest Community Organizing Committee, says that other residents have become more involved in the community since the public nurses became a steady presence. “They bring so much positive energy into everything we do,” says Wallace.
The health equity team is the brainchild of Judy Howard, public health supervisor at the public health department. “Public health will always need people focusing on individuals and families,” says Howard. “But health starts where we live and play, and this team can focus on the bigger picture — the neighborhoods. Is this a healthy environment? Does public policy support the changes people need to be healthy?”