We recently welcomed Lauren Smith as our new director of U.S. Health. Here, Lauren shares her experience and ideas for how to take on the toughest health issues of our time.
You bring a unique skillset to FSG as a physician with a master’s in public health. How has this experience shaped your perspective?
My career has been at the intersection of public health, healthcare delivery, and policy. Having been a clinician for more than 20 years, I have been let into people’s lives in a very real way to bear witness to their experiences. I’ve come to understand how people move through the world, experiencing policies and regulations, the failures as well as successes, and I can bring these insights to other parts of my work that I may not have if I were using a purely theoretic or academic approach.
What are the biggest challenges facing U.S. Health?
The overall issue that we face in the U.S. is that we have a substantial number of premature and preventable deaths. Within that category are many of the individual subject areas that people talk about; heart disease, cancers, diabetes and obesity-related diseases, infant mortality, violence, homicide, and suicide.
You can choose to work on one of these areas, but taken as a whole, our population is likely to die early from preventable causes. And during many of our fellow Americans’ lives, the quality and experience isn’t as rich as it could be—people are suffering from chronic diseases at much younger ages now. When you examine these issues, you recognize that they are not mutually independent, but rather overlapping and intertwined.
Why is FSG the right place to work on tackling some of these issues?
I actually first came in contact with FSG as a member of the Collective Impact Forum, when I joined to access some materials to help me engage key stakeholders on a national, federally funded infant mortality initiative, the Infant Mortality Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network. I was intrigued with FSG’s collective impact concept, particularly the ideas of shared measurement and mutually reinforcing activities because we were focused on each state developing a multisector coalition to combat infant mortality.
FSG’s suite of approaches applies a system lens to thorny, complex issues, and a large number of them have to do with U.S. health. And not just healthcare delivery; population health at a community level is a huge challenge because so much of what affects population health is outside of the healthcare delivery system. There’s a disconnect between where the costs accrue and where there’s an opportunity to make a difference.
If we can make the case for how these factors are interconnected—for example, if we can show how improving housing conditions or economic development have a positive impact on health—we can have a real impact on people’s health and well-being. FSG’s experience across sectors and issue areas allows it to see the entire system and work with stakeholders to change it.
I’m very interested in how you can create a vision and build a system that includes these types of supports. If you can get people to see this collective work as part of their job, it’s going to stick. For example, during my work as the Medical Director at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, I once worked with a leader at a local housing authority who understood that for his work to be successful, he needed to support the community-level health initiatives that were focused on the residents in his public housing developments. If residents were involved, healthy, and able to engage in work and school, it was a win for his agency.
What projects are you currently working on at FSG?
Since joining FSG, I’ve jumped into 2 collective impact projects: one around reducing infant mortality in Staten Island, NY, and one to decrease premature births in Fresno, CA. I am also working on a project for a pharmaceutical company foundation that is refining how they want to make a difference in improving health outcomes, especially among those hardest hit by health disparities. They’re working to improve access to specialty care for patients with lung cancer, skin cancer and HIV/AIDS.
I’m excited about the opportunity to harness FSG’s capacities and expertise in the U.S. Health arena where real social impact is so needed and can be so slow in coming.