Dearborn creates a new public health department with a director

Dearborn announced Wednesday it would bring back a revamped health department and appoint a director, making it, officials say, likely the only city in southeast Michigan outside of Detroit to have its own health department.

Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, elected in November, said Ali Abazeed, 31, who previously worked for the National Institutes of Health and advised Detroit’s health department, will lead the new public health department.

Dearborn once had its own health department with a five-person medical staff that provided patient services such as vaccinations, but closed in 2011 for budget reasons. The new department will be different, working across all city departments and focusing more on disease prevention and societal factors that influence health outcomes, Hammoud said. Officials say it’s a pioneering strategy that hasn’t been widely implemented before, but is backed by public health experts.

Dearborn has faced challenges in the fight against COVID-19, with the highest number of cases in the county outside of Detroit; high asthma rates in the south of the city potentially caused by industrial pollution and a high poverty rate of 26% which affects health.

“I look forward to creating a department that addresses the wide range of factors that impact a person’s health, including where they live, learn, work and play,” Abazeed said in a statement. city ​​press. “We are committed to working collaboratively with residents and community partners to promote the full potential of health and wellness for all.”

The city said in the statement that the new health service will go “beyond point-of-care services and vaccinations – an approach often referred to as ‘public health 1.0’.”

Instead, the city will focus on “public health 2.0 and 3.0 models that focus on rigorous population-level assessment, policy development, and the social determinants of health.”

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Services, Chelsea Wuth, said she was not aware of any other Michigan city outside of Detroit that has its own health department.

Most cities and other municipalities in Michigan work with county health departments. Spokespersons for some of Michigan’s largest cities outside of Detroit or their websites say they don’t have their own health departments.

Wayne County spokeswoman Tiffani Jackson said the county health department “continues to serve as the local public health authority for Out-Wayne County, including Dearborn.”

“We look forward to coordinating with the City of Dearborn,” Jackson said. “We are still coordinating processes and procedures going forward.”

A Macomb County spokesman, Scott Turske, said he didn’t know of any town in the county that has its own health department. Oakland County spokesman Bill Mullan did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Like other cities, Dearborn has worked with Wayne County on health issues for years.

“We believe this department will strengthen our relationship with the Wayne County Health Department,” city spokesman Bilal Baydoun said. “Our different mandates will allow us to complement each other while our public health department allows us to focus on Dearborn and its unique health needs. We have a long-standing relationship with Wayne County and are excited to build on this rich history.

The old Dearborn department was more traditional, while the new one is the “first of its kind in terms of focusing on population-level health interventions based on a ‘Health In All Policies’ approach that has yet to been widely implemented across American cities,” Baydoun said.

Abazeed was born in Dearborn to Syrian refugees and originally planned to become a doctor, but decided to pursue public health because “I saw an area with such potential that would allow me to extend social impact more broadly” , he said in a 2017 interview with the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Mayor Abdullah Hammoud delivers an inauguration speech after being sworn in as Dearborn's new mayor by Third Circuit Court Judge Helal A. Farhat at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center on January 15, 2022. Hammoud is the first Arab-American and first Muslim to serve as mayor of Dearborn.

He graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience in 2013, a master’s degree from its School of Public Health in 2017 and a master’s degree in public policy from its Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, according to his LinkedIn page. and the city of Dearborn.

He has previously worked in Lebanon helping refugees in camps, inspired by his family upbringing and desire to help.

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“My father was a teacher in Syria,” Abazeed said. “He was forced to leave the country in the 1970s for publicly criticizing the Syrian government’s human rights record, and my parents fled to Algeria and then to the United States. I was born and raised in Dearborn. But I feel very connected to the refugees through my parents’ experience.”

Falling into a car accident at the age of 16 motivated him to take action.

“I like to think I’m on borrowed time,” he said. “It drives my passion to help people.”

After grad school, he did research with the university’s Center for Social Epidemiology and Population Health, then became Presidential Management Fellow at the US Department of Health and Human Services and public health adviser at the NIH.

At NIH, Abazeed worked with the National Cancer Institute on cancer programs and contributed to the National Framework for Policy Implementation Science, which aims to turn scientific research into public policy.

He also worked in the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy and Evaluation.

Abazeed has volunteered with the Syrian American Medical Society and the Arab-American social services group ACCESS in Dearborn.

The mayor, who holds a master’s degree in public health, said the COVID-19 pandemic makes it clear that we “need to modernize our public health systems”.

He said the Dearborn Health Department “is about being accountable to our residents and no longer shifting our responsibility for public health to other places.”

Hammoud said part of the health department’s role will be to “prioritize environmental justice and collect timely and reliable data” to promote health equity in the city.

Dearborn has significant income gaps between the western and eastern parts of the city. Abazeed said 80% to 90% of a population’s health outcomes are determined by preventative factors, such as socioeconomics, behavior and environment.

“Our public health department will be at the forefront of making our communities healthier,” Abazeed said.

Contact Niraj Warikoo: [email protected] or Twitter @nwarikoo