Tisch Prize Award Ceremony

On June 18, 2012 Jonathan Fanton announced the recipients of the 2011 Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize. Awarded by the Hunter Foundation, the prize recognizes an individual or nonprofit organization in the New York metropolitan area for outstanding accomplishment in the field of urban public health.

Tisch Prize Award Ceremony
June 18, 2012

Good evening. As Chair of the Selection Committee of the Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize let me begin by saying what a pleasure and honor it has been to serve in this capacity again this year.

From my time at The MacArthur Foundation, I have a special appreciation for how awards can elevate the importance of a field by honoring outstanding people and organizations.  The field of Community Health deserves our recognition and respect.

Before I announce the recipients, let me tell you about the selection process and criteria.

The 10-member Selection Committee, most of whom are here this evening, was comprised of Hunter faculty from the Schools of Public Health, Social Work and Nursing, and the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning—Neal Cohen, Lynn Roberts, Judith Rosenberger, Judith Aponte and John Chin—as well as external health policy experts—Dennis Rivera, John McDonough, Georges Benjamin and Sue Kaplan. Both John and Georges are former Tisch Public Health Fellows. Again, thank you all for your service.

We received 40 outstanding nominations. Thank you to all of the nominators and references for introducing us to such worthy candidates. The quality and range of their work is breathtaking, representing all parts of our city and many approaches to improving urban public health.  For example, the nominees included: a health expert in East Harlem battling the environmental causes of asthma; a breast cancer screening program in Manhattan tailored specifically to women with physical disabilities; a Queens program to provide free care and screenings to the uninsured and new immigrants; and an organization providing housing, health and social services to mentally ill homeless populations throughout the city.

All of the nominees are working on health problems associated with poverty and reducing health inequities. And all are deserving. It was difficult to choose only one individual and one organization.

We used three main criteria in our review. The first was outstanding Achievement in the development of an urban health initiative. The second was Imagination in tackling a public health problem and the third was Impact—lasting improvement in health and well-being, and potential for replication.

Today’s recipients are emblematic of many heroic individuals and organizations who work to make New York a more just, humane and  healthier place to live. There will be more moving stories to recognize in future years.

I speak for all members of the Selection Committee when I say that this was a very uplifting assignment. Thank you President Raab for giving us the opportunity, and thanks to Joan Tisch for inspiring this award and to her children for honoring her in this way.

And now to announce the recipients of the second annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize—

The 2012 “organization” recipient is the LegalHealth unit of New York Legal Assistance Group. LegalHealth unites legal and health care professionals who work collaboratively to improve the lives of low-income people with serious health problems by: addressing the legal needs associated with poverty that undermine recovery; eliminating legal barriers to services; and educating health care professionals about their patients’ legal needs.

Nominator Joe Baker, President of the Medicare Rights Center, noted that LegalHealth has taken the medical-legal partnership model “to a new level, maximizing its impact while expanding new arenas for implementation.”  In fact LegalHealth is now the largest such partnership in the nation and has served over 17,000 clients and trained over 5,000 health care professionals. It further extends its mission through legislative advocacy. Last fall it was instrumental in getting state legislation passed and signed by Governor Cuomo to expand medical-legal partnerships throughout New York State.

Let me provide some examples of LegalHealth’s work. In representing an asthma patient, it might take action against a landlord to force repairs to housing conditions triggering the disease, such as mold and vermin. To help a cancer patient avoid additional stresses that might compromise her condition, LegalHealth makes plans for care of dependents, or resolves debt and credit issues. Another client service is helping patients apply for government benefits, like food stamps.

In his letter of reference, Dr. Howard Minkoff, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center explained, “My fellow physicians and I are painfully aware that even when we can readily diagnose illness and when there are highly efficacious therapies, if patients cannot access their medication because of homelessness, problems with health insurance, or threat of deportation, our ability to treat them and manage their illnesses will remain illusory. It is the … staff at LegalHealth who translate “hypothetical” benefits into actual cures through their focus on the non-medical barriers to care.”

LegalHealth tells a broader story about community health—that health outcomes are often dependent on myriad “non-medical” factors that left unchecked lead to health inequities. LegalHealth inspires others to seek innovative ways to tackle these social determinants of health, making it eminently worthy of the second annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.

The “individual” recipient is Mark Hannay, Executive Director of the Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign.  In the words of his nominator, Dr. Terry Mizrahi  [Miz-RAH-hee] of Hunter’s Social Work faculty, “Mark is a truly exceptional health advocate whose leadership as a coalition-builder, spokesperson and tireless organizer has galvanized New Yorkers to join successful community-based campaigns to expand access to health care, particularly for those with serious illnesses and disabilities, the uninsured and the voiceless.”

Mark has built Metro NY Health Care into a vibrant coalition of community, labor, professional and faith-based groups, to fight for fundamental reform leading to universal health care. Among the campaigns he has mobilized and helped lead are those:
enacting New York’s Managed Care Consumers’ Bill of Rights;
creating New York’s Family Health Plus program;
stopping harmful budget cuts to New York’s Medicaid program;
enacting financial aid programs to assist uninsured and underinsured patients in all New York hospitals;

And he has been on the front lines of advocacy for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Richard Gottfried, Chair of the New York State Assembly Health Committee, said of Mark: “[he] … is one of those rare advocates who is not only committed, but also thoughtful and understands the complexities of policy issues and political processes and the balance that often must be struck along the way.”

And Elisabeth Benjamin, Vice President at the Community Services Society, praised Mark’s “imagination, unwavering patience, and ability to build enthusiasm often seemingly from thin air.”

In addition to his advocacy work, Mark also educates thousands of New Yorkers on key health issues through a radio interview program and cable TV show.

For his principled passion and reasoned eloquence in the fight for health care as a basic human right, for his vision of a just society, and for the impact he has had on countless New Yorkers in need, Mark Hannay has earned the second annual Joan H. Tisch Community Health Prize.

I now have the pleasure of introducing John McDonough who will moderate a conversation with Mark Hannay and Randye Retkin, Director of LegalHealth.

John is a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of its new Center for Public Health Leadership. In 2010, he was the inaugural Joan H. Tisch Distinguished Fellow in Public Health at Hunter College, and between 2008 and 2010 he served as Senior Advisor on National Health Reform to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Prior to that, he was Executive Director of Health Care For All, Massachusetts’ leading consumer health advocacy organization, where he played a key role in the 2006 Massachusetts health reform law. His book, Inside National Health Reform, is a compelling insider’s account of the passage of the landmark Affordable Care Act.

We are delighted that he has returned to Roosevelt House this evening to engage our two distinguished Tisch Prize recipients in a conversation about their important work.

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