Denise Fair accepted the role in early September and is already making strides to expand programming to keep every Detroiter healthy.
It takes a village to raise a child. The Detroit Health Department delivers that level of family support with a variety of health care programming that’s set to expand under the guidance of new Chief Public Health Officer Denise Fair. She was hired in early September and has since been making strides to improve the health and welfare of all Detroiters.
“My goal was always to sit at the table and make a real difference in the community. The staff here are so passionate and committed to the city of Detroit,” Fair says of the Detroit Health Department. Fair has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan, a master’s in public health from the University of California at Berkeley and more than 12 years of leadership experience in the health care field.
She’s been reviewing the community health assessment, developed with resident feedback prior to her arrival, and working closely with Detroiters and other community stakeholders to understand the city’s health care needs and implement policy to improve outcomes.
The community health assessment was an 18-month citywide process involving in-depth research, focus groups, interviews, surveys and data walks with residents, hospitals, community-based organizations and others to develop a vision for health in Detroit, identifying existing assests and setting priorities. The next step is to develop a robust implementation plan to address these priorities over the next three to five years.
One way Fair is looking to make a difference is through enhancing programming, like SisterFriends, to protect young children and reduce infant mortality rates in the city. This grassroots initiative, which was launched in August of 2017, aims to “connect pregnant moms and families to existing programs and resources – and to each other” by partnering moms who have parenting experience – “big sisters” – with moms-to-be to act as guiding mentors through the first year of motherhood.
“When a mom is struggling and has no one to support her, she can call on her SisterFriend,” she says. Beyond SisterFriends, the Detroit Health Department also offers education and support for new parents through a safe sleep initiative that teaches new parents the appropriate way for infants to sleep, and distributes free Pack ‘n Plays to support safe sleep practices. Eligible familes also have access to WIC services, which ensure that all Detroiters, not just moms, have access to nutritious food.
iDecide Detroit Clinic
In addition to infant health, Fair and the Detroit Health Department are focusing on the issue of teen pregnancy through the iDecide Detroit Clinic, located in the Butzel Family Recreation Center. Each year, some 1600 Detroit teens, ages 15-19, become pregnant – a number that’s nearly 2.5 times higher than the rest of the state – largely due to a lack of reproductive health education and options.
“The iDecide Detroit Clinic is a safe place for teens to come and talk about their sexual health needs,” Fair says. While focused on teens, the center, which is a top priority for the Detroit Health Department, will treat both men and women of all ages and provide condoms; birth control; testing for sexually transmitted infection, including HIV; and pregnancy testing, along with counseling and education on reproductive health.
Lead Prevention & Water Shut-Off Pilots
And the offerings at the Detroit Health Department don’t stop with teens either. Residents in need of immunizations, hearing and vision services, and animal welfare services can find support, as can those who need their children tested for lead. The Detroit Health Department recommends all children under 6 get tested for lead each year, especially if the family home was built prior to 1978 and contains old paint.
Through the Detroit Health Department’s Lead Prevention Pilot program, made possible by a $1.2-million city investment, lead advocates visit homes in the top 5 zip codes where the highest levels of childhood lead poisoning have been found. Advocates provide door-to-door outreach and in-home lead testing – plus education on how families can protect themselves from lead along with lead-based cleaning kits.
This program is set to expand thanks to a partnership with the city’s Housing and Revitalization Department and a $9.7-million HUD grant. In collaboration with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, the Detroit Health Department has also developed a Water Shut-Off Pilot, which took the best practices from around the country to prevent water shut-offs and brought them to some of the most at-risk areas in the city. This pilot runs on a three-step process that involves telephone and door-to-door outreach to develop a plan of action that is designed to address the reasons behind a late water bill.
Fair says she looks forward to her role with the Detroit Health Deparment. “This is not a job for me – it’s really a calling,” she says. But, she adds, “I can’t do this alone. It’s going to take an entire city to back me up, and I’m going to back up the city to make a difference and create a healthy environment where everyone can thrive.”
For more information about the Detroit Health Department, visit
detroitmi.gov/health or call 313-876-4000.