Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pitching you a note from Bemidji



Greetings from Bemidji,
Tonight I’m in Bemidjihalf-way through my last “Pitch the Commissioner” trip of 2012. Unfortunately, just when I’ve started to get the hang of pitching and have increased my ringer percentage, the weather has intervened to shut me down until next spring. However, Bemidji is the curling capital of the U.S. so tomorrow I will be throwing a 35-pound curling stone for the first time in my life, tutored by an Olympic Curling Champion.  I’m sure there will be a crowd there to “Rock the Commissioner” – an option much better than “stoning the commissioner.”
Today I pitched horseshoes on the Red Lake Nation and was pitched ideas about long-term care, diabetes, nutrition, suicide/mental health, breastfeeding, childbirth in rural communities, and the need for health educators outside of the metro area, among other things. Earlier in the day at the Sanford Hospital in Bemidji I was educated about the hospital’s community needs assessment, an innovative dental access clinic, and a large NIH grant studying social determinants of health among various tribes in Minnesota and the Dakotas. 
Tomorrow I meet with the staff in the MDH District Office, multiple SHIP partners, the Clearwater County Commissioners, and the Headwaters Food Sovereignty Council; bicycle with local supporters of several bike initiatives; and end the day curling. It should be interesting and I’m glad someone else will be driving on our way back to St. Paul. 
As I sit in my room tonight overlooking beautiful Lake Bemidji (I’ll take people’s word for that because it’s too dark to see), I’m remembering all the faces of health that I saw today – faces from hospitals, clinics, dental practices, community organizations, research institutions, tribes, advocacy organizations, government, and schools. Tomorrow, I’m sure I will see many more faces. 
That image of faces reminded me of the welcome that I gave at the Many Faces of Health Conference in Bloomington last Thursday. I’ll close this note with some of what I shared with that group.
I mentioned to the attendees of the conference that the day of the meeting (October 25) was the 50th anniversary of the announcement that John Steinbeck had won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his works that elegantly and starkly articulated the plight of the poor and dispossessed during the Great Depression. I read part of Steinbeck’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech during which he reflected on the efforts of writers. He said:
“Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches--nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tin-horn mendicants of low-calorie despair.
Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed.
The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit--for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation.”
I then reflected that if that’s the role of a writer, what about all the folks working in community and public health – the community health workers, primary health care and social service providers, sanitarians, epidemiologists, regulators, lab scientists, community organizers, statisticians, policy makers and policy specialists, and many more? 
I answered that question by paraphrasing John Steinbeck’s speech:
“Public health was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated group of naysayers with a defeatist approach to community health -- nor is it a game for cloistered and tin-horn mendicants of despair.
You, public health professionals, are healers and protectors and health promoters and truth seekers creating health -- a cause as old as humanity itself. You are here because of human need and more needed now than ever.
The ancient commission of public health has not changed. You are charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous realities for the purpose of improvement.
Furthermore, you are delegated to declare and to celebrate humanity’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit -- for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair and injury and disease, you are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation.”
That certainly describes those who work in public health in Minnesota.
Ed