When members of the Massachusetts legislature were looking for experts to help them understand the impact of prevention on health care and health care costs, they turned to UMass Medical School. For State Sen. Harriette Chandler, looking to UMMS was a natural choice. Being from Worcester, she’s familiar with the work that this institution has done to educate the community about the importance of prevention and the power of behavioral changes. When she and State Rep. Jason Lewis began to investigate how to “create a ‘prevention culture’ in Massachusetts, where the prevention of disease and the promotion of health, based on the best scientific evidence, is a first priority . . .” they enlisted the expertise of Judy Ockene, PhD, MEd, MA, the Barbara Helen Smith Chair in Preventive & Behavioral Medicine, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Preventive & Behavorial Medicine, and her colleagues to educate them about the power of prevention and to illustrate the real-world impact UMMS is having on helping people to change behaviors in order to improve health. “I am so thrilled to be a part of this caucus, where it’s our goal to create a ‘culture of prevention’ in the commonwealth,” said Sen. Chandler. “It is often noted that Massachusetts has been a leader on health care, and by embracing this fresh approach through the Prevention for Health Caucus, we will make Massachusetts a leader once again in curbing unnecessary expenditures and encouraging healthy lifestyles.” At the Prevention for Health Caucus kickoff at the State House in late March, Dr. Ockene delivered a evidence-based presentation on the importance of supporting prevention, which included statistics on the two leading preventable causes of death in the United States—tobacco use and obesity-related diseases—and a revealing juxtaposition of the factors that influence health and national health expenditures. Ockene also highlighted the fact that the most vulnerable populations in Massachusetts—those targeted by the Medical School in outreach and education programs—are also the most likely to be affected by the two leading causes of death. “Massachusetts has led the nation in developing a mechanism for health care insurance for all,” noted Ockene. “We need to continue our leadership with the focus on prevention that can help decrease uncontrollable health care spending. Researchers at UMMS have contributed a great deal to the development of the prevention strategies articulated in the Affordable Care Act, March 2011. The Massachusetts prevention caucus initiated by Senator Chandler and Representative Lewis can help mobilize and reinforce our commonwealth’s prevention efforts so that every person has an opportunity to be healthy.” One of the highlights of Ockene’s presentation was a map of Massachusetts marking the sites where UMMS is having an impact on reducing tobacco use and obesity, be it through partnerships with public health agencies, collaborations with clinical sites or educational programs in schools. The map was covered from Pittsfield to Yarmouth, Haverhill to New Bedford, by push pins indicating the Medical School’s presence in prevention programs.
Also presenting at the kickoff were JudyAnn Bigby, MD, secretary of Health and Human Services; John Auerbach, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Kiane Mahaniah, MD, associate medical director of the Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, and Valerie Bassett, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Associations. Chandler and Lewis also spoke. The Prevention for Health Caucus plans to continue to hold informational meetings to garner the support of House members to advocate for legislation and initiatives that place prevention at the forefront of public health. Its next meeting is in June.