Saturday, September 05, 2009

WHO IS JOHN AUERBACH? Is he qualified to be Commissioner of Public Health?


The Massachusetts Commissioner of the Department of Public Health would hold enormous power if Bill S2028 (pandemic disaster preparation) is passed. He already has the power to define what diseases are a danger to public health and subject to vaccination requirements, isolation and quarantine orders. One would think that someone with a medical degree (preferably along with a public health expertise) would have the job of Commissioner.

Well, this is Massachusetts. Our Commissioner has a BA from Clark University and an MBA (with a concentration in health care administration) from Boston University School of Management. But no medical background. But he's been a factory worker, a labor organizer, and head of the DPH HIV/AIDS office. 

(An example of Auerbach's contribution to public health is The Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century, a homo-erotic how-to for young men, including a directory of gay bars in Boston. Published by the AIDS Action Committee of Mass., it thanked two governmental groups he ran or worked with for their help: The Boston Public Health Commission and the DPH.)

Auerbach has pledged his support for the homosexual and transgender propaganda in the Massachusetts public schools. MassResistance reported in December 2008:
Commissioner Auerbach replied that he wants to advance "transgender health" while they have the opportunity. He applauded the commission's [on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth] attention to trans health and said "We will listen to your recommendations." Gunner Scott (a woman GLBT Commissioner with a beard and sideburns) stated that she wants the DPH to consider trans people for leadership roles within DPH. Auerbach agreed.... Gunner added that she wants the terms "gender identification" and "gender expression" used in the DPH policies. Auerbach agreed, and said they'll make sure that this happens. 

The Harvard Medical School's Office for Diversity and Community Partnership gave him a "social justice" award in 2008 and noted:

As Commissioner, he heads a Department with 3,100 employees that includes four public health hospitals, the State Laboratory, several regulatory bodies, and numerous programmatic units addressing chronic and infectious disease, substance abuse, environmental health, tobacco control, children and adolescent health, and emergency preparedness. He is the Chair of the Public Health Council, the State’s Health Policy Board, and a member of the Governor’s Anti-Crime Council. 

The Boston Globe reported: 

He had gained national prominence in public health circles by championing sometimes-controversial causes such as banning smoking in bars and restaurants and, more recently, reviewing whether the city should ban trans-fats from restaurants and bakeries. Auerbach also directed a groundbreaking campaign to address ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare, which his boss, Mayor Thomas M. Menino, declared as the most pressing medical issue in the city.
Auerbach's appointment arrives a week after Patrick announced a $72 million increase in public health spending, with the money being used to
expand childhood vaccinations and disease-prevention campaigns.

From the DPH web site:

Commissioner John Auerbach, DPH
How did you get into this field?
My first job in public health was working in the community health center in my neighborhood in Dorchester. I was so impressed with the incredible work that was being done at the center that I wanted to stay in the field.

Who would you consider to be your mentor and why?
I have had a few wonderful mentors. I am most indebted to David Mulligan, the former commissioner of Public Health in Massachusetts, for whom I worked in one capacity or another for almost 20 years. I had the benefit of observing firsthand his brilliant strategic thinking and his skillful, compassionate leadership style. Another invaluable mentor was Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, with his unique combination of first-rate political acumen, heart-felt concern for the most vulnerable and very effective leadership ability.

What quote do you live by?
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. (Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963)

What has been the most memorable moment of your career?
Certainly one of the most memorable occurred when I was the Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. After many months of collaborative planning, a coalition unveiled the set of action steps to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in health. Initially it seemed unrealistic to think that a city health department could have an impact on such a major problem — which involved many other factors outside of the control of our department such as jobs, housing and schools. Yet many people and organizations were prepared to contribute to taking concerted action — redirecting millions of dollars, supporting scores of contracts and training thouands of people. It was inspiring to see the support for such a worthwhile effort.

Can you share an interesting fact about yourself that your colleagues wouldn’t necessarily know?
My first job after college was as a labor organizer in a shoe factory in the Boston area. As such, I worked on an assembly line for years and came to understand first hand the unsafe working conditions and low salaries that the workers endured — as well as the positive results that were possible under the right set of circumstances. The lessons and skills that I learned from these years have been invaluable in my work in public health.

Is there anything you’d like people to know about your agency?
Much of the work of the Department is unheralded because it involves prevention and the minimization of health risk — something that is difficult to quantify. The work of our dedicated staff results in the avoidance of disease and premature death and the guarantee that air, water and food are safe. The Department has hundreds of unsung heroes.