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Tending a Healthy Community


DEBBIE: I remember meeting with a leader in a Cambodian community group in South Philly and talking to him about our plans for an anthrax attack. Well, he didn't care about that, he cared about diabetes, right? So, kind of meeting their needs where we could. We came up with a health bulletin in 17 different languages where we provided fourth grade reading level information to those organizations on a routine basis. But in an emergency we would have those stakeholders to reach out to and they would trust us because we were sending them information throughout the year in their language

Hi, this is Dan Baum, host of Redefine U. Thanks for joining us as we continue our series exploring how we redefine in the face of a pandemic.

Public health is a discipline we’re hearing a lot about lately. But what is public health? How can we, who are not public health practitioners, contribute to the health of our communities? And what can the discipline and experience of public health professionals teach us about redefining ourselves?

This week, we’ll talk with Debbie Hammond, assistant professor in the Department of Health, Fitness and Exercise Studies and coordinator of the Public Health program at Anne Arundel Community College. Debbie will share her past experience, current perspective and how community is the very essence of public health.

DAN:                       Today, we're joined by Debbie Hammond, a faculty member in health, fitness and exercise studies and coordinator for the public health program. Welcome, Professor Hammond.

DEBBIE:                  Thank you, Dan. Thanks for having me.

DAN:                       How are you doing during this pandemic?

DEBBIE:                  Oh, that's a big question.

DAN:                       Yes, it is.

DEBBIE:                  I think about that all the time. Every day's a new day, and I'll say that there's a lot of emotions every day. I do have my husband and my two elementary age children home at this time, so we're navigating their online learning now. They're becoming very early online learners, and that's been eye opening. It can be frustrating, overwhelming. And then reaching out, obviously, with my students and teaching the classes. So, I go from having feelings of a little bit of frustration and overwhelmed to also kind of exhilarating, I will say, which may seem strange. But because I'm in public health and I have a background in public health, I'm seeing this as a time that we all are dealing with changes in our own ways.

Everyone's got something that's changed, whether it's we've lost a job and we're trying to get food, or maybe we have online learning for our children, but everybody has a change and that brings us together in a strange way, and I see people reaching out to each other.

                                    So,I think that can be, for me, exhilarating and seeing so much work in public health. But then, in times when I'm really frustrated, I have to remember how grateful I am for having a job, having my needs met right now. I mean, really, I cannot be complaining at all. Yeah, all these emotions, every day, and every day I got to say, "Okay, we're going to start this day trying to be positive." Because it absolutely can get overwhelming.

DAN:                       Yeah, I understand. Thank you for that. And as a public health professional, you bring a lot of expertise and a wonderful perspective, which I want to explore further. But before that, I understand you're bilingual, as well. So, I also should have said bienvenido.

DEBBIE:                  Gracias.

DAN:                       Let's start there. With the public schools being closed, there's limited information for Spanish-speaking families, correct? Tell me a little bit about your experience with that, what you see going on there.

DEBBIE:                  We know that we have a growing amount of English language learners in our county, in our state, and around the country. My children, for example, go to a title one school where 50% to 60% of the students are English language learners. So, in regular business time, I think the school system is really trying and has come a long way with providing opportunities in English and Spanish. At our PTA meetings we translate, but at a time when everything is so quickly changing and the guidelines are changing, I think it was a little tricky to keep up with those messages.

                                    There's just so many changes for all of us that are English speakers, that you can only imagine that additional challenge for those that are still learning the language.

                                    I think videos help because there's also a lot of literacy issues in English or Spanish, so then you need videos to be translated. That's what I started noting early on as someone with a background in public health on how to reach vulnerable populations during emergencies. And I will say it's gotten better. Now we're at a point where I think we've seen a lot of community organizations come together, the school systems, again, partnering with the health department, and the county executive's office, and City of Annapolis. There's been some really cool connections that are helping to meet the needs of those communities. It's getting better.

                                    I will say faith-based also, that's something that I just kept wracking my brain. How are we going to get information out to individuals that don't read in English or Spanish and all these guidelines are changing? And normally a faith-based leader may be where people would... they are trusted sources in a community where they would get information. But people are not meeting in churches or places of worship, so then how are they getting it out? It's really tricky to get the communication out by a trusted source in a way that's understood, trusted. I know a lot of people are still lacking information and it just unveils what we need to work on when we're not in this situation, post pandemic.

DAN:                       Well, it seems like so many parts of the county, right here with our college, of course nationwide, even worldwide, people are coming together to help one another. In what ways are you seeing that in the Hispanic community? You said in a lot of ways it's been the faith-based organization in the past, but what ways are you seeing people coming together in the Hispanic community to help one another?

DEBBIE:                  I actually was invited to join, there's a new Facebook group that was started by the Hispanic community in Annapolis. Well, a lot of people are posting things related to the whole county. Whether it's posting, "I have this pantry of food. Here is a link to how to make a mask." They're posting videos in Spanish that they found from other areas. That's been a really cool resource. That group grew exponentially from when it first started, it's been about two weeks now that it's been open.

DAN:                       Yeah, no, that's great. And last week we spoke to Tresa Ballard, who coordinates our service learning, and you're also involved in service learning. I understand you had a student who noticed a similar issue, what you're talking about, of getting communication out to Spanish-speaking communities. So, what was the problem that the student saw and how did she go about solving it?

DEBBIE:                  Sure. Yes. A student in sort of our capstone public health course, health promotion and health education. She worked in a healthcare setting, she's bilingual herself as a Latina, and serving a lot of patients. I think she said 75% of the patients were English language learners, and this was a few weeks ago, but she was noting that people just seem to not really have the information about what was going on, didn't really know about social distancing, didn't really understand the virus. And so, having a little bit of background in public health through our program, she went on the CDC website and found, translated documents, and posted them up around the office so that people could get be more educated.

                                    Since, she's really felt a lot of drive to help the Annapolis Hispanic population at this time and she's finally decided on working with the food bank and I know she wanted to do this. She has been involved with some of the distribution sites. I know she's taking her precautions with her mask and her gloves, and she is interpreting at those to help people, to get messages during those distributions. I know she's told me that she's translated documents for churches and faith-based organizations at this time. So, she's kind of pulling together different ways that she's helping to serve the community with health information at this time. And that's, to me, is such an important piece of public health.

DAN:                       That's great. That's really good. Well, since you teach public health, this is your field. You said in some ways it's almost exhilarating for you because we are living what you do and teach. When I was in college, we used the term mode of inquiry to describe how a particular profession sees the world. So, how do public health professionals see the world? In what way do they look at the current situation?

DEBBIE:                  So, I think, what I found is people, when I run into people that say, "Oh, wow, you're going to stay in work now." Or, "Oh, this is really you're thing in public health." And yeah, of course we're all hearing the word public health and epidemiology every day, but there's a lot of public health work that's going on all the time. It's just now it's an emergency and so the general public, everybody's hearing about it and getting on board. So, I think for public health professionals it's like well, there is this syndromic surveillance, there is a lot of health education.

                                    Maybe not on a communicable disease like Covid-19 but in preventing diabetes and health education and policies related to that. Policies related to physical education in schools or policies related to preventing overdose or preventing death from overdose with the Naloxone training. So, public health is really going on all the time. It's just right now we have a, it's obviously a pandemic, right? So, it's not just an outbreak, it's not just an epidemic. This is a pandemic, which means it's global, and we're putting those efforts at the forefront, but we got to remember that there's also a lot of other health issues that still need to be taken care of. And that's why we have this whole conversation about lowering the curve because otherwise our healthcare system's just going to be overwhelmed. I mean, we still have people dying of heart disease, right? That's the number one killer. You still have overdose deaths. That's still going on.

And what's interesting in teaching my courses, and I now go to different resources where students might be going, whether it's the CDC website or a or related to eating disorders. They're going to have special information about how do you manage your disease right now in this scenario under Covid-19. So, I guess my message will be that, yeah, we're all hearing public health and epidemiology all the time. Usually I have students that even start a class like, "I don't know what public health is, but I'm taking this class." So, we're just educating the public on what public health is and that the work is going on all the time and it's pretty expansive.

DAN:                       Yeah. So, the health of the public is always there, obviously …

DEBBIE:                  Yeah.

DAN:                       And that's ongoing, it doesn't stop. But you have experience in previous roles with the departments of health in both Baltimore and Philadelphia. Tell me a little bit about that. I understand you oversaw some disaster preparedness and you said you've worked with vulnerable populations. Tell me a little bit about your experiences there.

DEBBIE:                  Yes, after I finished graduate school, and so I got my masters in community health education at Temple, in Philly, and I really had a strong interest in international health. I had lived in Honduras and Spain, and actually my work in Honduras really got me interested in public health to begin with. But I got a position working for the public health preparedness and response team in Philadelphia Health Department, and my specific role was making sure our plans accommodated, or covered the needs of vulnerable populations. So, that means individuals that may be English language learners, or deaf, hard of hearing, blind, homeless. What that involved was a lot of outreach and networking with those stakeholders in those communities.

And then when I moved down to Baltimore, I did similar planning also with the Strategic National Stockpile that you'll hear about right now in the news and how that would be disseminated to the points of dispensing, et cetera.

DAN:                       So, what did those experiences teach you, or what lessons do you feel were learned that might apply to our current situation most?

DEBBIE:                  I think, kind of going back to what I talked about before and now we're seeing the county working so closely with community organizations and really using community organizations as a way to reach people. I mean, what I absolutely learned in my role was the importance of meeting people where they are. So, if you can meet people where they are and help those needs, they'd be more likely to listen to you and you could become a trusted source of information to them. I guess at this time, I think this is a great opportunity and we're seeing it all around us, of people reaching out to each other, bringing more people into their network to find ways to help each other. In terms of government agencies, making sure to be including those community organizations at all levels to reach the people you need to, to keep them safe.

DAN:                       Yeah. Along those lines, what are the ways that others might help or get involved, if they're not part of some of these organizations you're talking about? What can the average person do to get involved and help?

DEBBIE:                  So, in terms of helping, I think, again, a lot of it is we're relying on social media. I think, that's a great way to be able to share things. Just yesterday I shared with my neighborhood group, because a friend of mine is working at a food bank or food pantry at a church that's doing drive through food delivery or food pickup. I was able to post on my neighborhood that this food pantry needs support, even if it's just paper bags. So, we can see what needs are and share that, or do our own donating if we can. Obviously the food bank has the great needs right now. YWCA as well, we're seeing increase in domestic violence right now. So, YWCA would be a great place to donate. I guess helping also just like on a more personal level, reaching out to people around you or people maybe haven't heard from.

                                    We hear a lot about fight or flight as the primary way of responding to stress. But there's been more research, Shelly Taylor was a psychologist in the 90s. She found that women were not responding to stress by fleeing or fighting. In fact, a lot of times there's this urge to what she coined as tend or befriend. So, like tending to children or people in need and then befriending, kind of creating the social contact.

                                    And we have oxytocin, it's sort of this feel good hormone that you get when you have a long hug, but you also get that in the stress response, which leads you to do that tending. Women and men. They actually did a lot of research on women, but they're finding that it's something that is released in men as well. And it can be beneficial to actually do that tending and befriending. And so what you could do right now, in terms of helping, is to reach out to people maybe you haven't heard from or reach out to a friend in need. We're all kind of in this together.

DAN:                       Yeah. And we often hear that caregivers don't get enough care themselves because, as in your words, they're tending and befriending. So, where do you turn for help and support?

DEBBIE:                  That is hard. Yes. Right. I will say I find myself still reaching out to others and that helps me with feeling connected. I'm an extrovert and so this has been challenging. I reach it reached out to students, this morning I did a couple videos, just giving them more resources, checking in with them.

I will say that in terms of one stress reliever I've found new is that my family started to play soccer in the backyard and it gives a lot of good laughs because I'm not a soccer player. I'm getting better, but we're getting a lot of laughs with the family and it's amazing how much better you feel after 15 minutes of running around and laughing.

DAN:                       Yeah. And we're all learning new things in this environment. Well, the outside world's forcing us to change in many ways. You referenced that at the very beginning of our conversation. How would you say that we're redefining ourselves in these times?

DEBBIE:                  Wow. I think, we're doing maybe more looking inward and what are our true values, what are the things that brought us to where we are today? What are the things that are important to us? I'm finding that what's important to me is physical activity, reaching out to other people. I'm starting to do more art. So, I think it's giving us an opportunity to really think about what's most important, what we value most, where we might want to help most and to care for others.

DAN:                       And would you say you're redefining yourself too?

DEBBIE:                  Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

DAN:                       In what way?

DEBBIE:                  Well, finding new creative ways to reach students, creative ways to engage with my children and my family and really learning what they truly like to do and what I truly like to do. So, I think that this, I don't know if it's really a pause, it can be seen as a pause by some people, but this really unique time in our lives is enabling us to see what we truly enjoy and what's important to us.

DAN:                       Yeah. Well, Debbie, thank you so much for spending time with us and sharing your insights. Take care and be well.

DEBBIE:                  Thank you, Dan.

People all around us are struggling — in different ways and to different degrees. Like good public health practitioners, we should meet people where they are. There are those in our community who need a job or a place to live. Others need encouragement, to connect or have a good laugh.

We talked in our last episode about ways to volunteer while staying home. Professor Debbie Hammond echoed some of Service Learning Coordinator Tresa Ballard’s advice, adding that the more we expand our networks, the more opportunities we can find to help and be helped.

Everyone has something that’s changed and when we reach out, it brings us together in a beautiful way.


Special thanks to Debbie Hammond for joining us for this week’s episode.

Redefine U is a production of Anne Arundel Community College. Our Executive Producer is Allison Baumbusch, our producer is Jeremiah Prevatte, and our Writer Amy Carr-Willard. Others who helped with this podcast include Amanda Behrens, Angie Hamlet, Ben Pierce, and Alicia Renehan. Find show notes, how to subscribe, and other extras on our website I’m your Host and Creator of this podcast, Dan Baum. Thanks for listening.


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