Going Beyond the Doctor’s Office to Treat Community Health Needs

The new leader of Houston’s Episcopal Health Foundation says the COVID pandemic, and now monkeypox, shine a light on Texas populations that are vulnerable.

Dr. Ann Barnes has spent much of her career as a physician on the front lines serving communities that are overburdened and under-resourced. She said more needs to be done to improve health outside of traditional health-care settings.

“It’s really about how do you support the creation and the environments that promote health,” she said, “so that people can live to their full potential and not be at increased risk when these crises happen?”

Since last week, Texas has reported more than 300 monkeypox cases, and health officials expect to expand vaccine availability. Barnes, currently chief health officer and senior vice president for Houston’s Harris Health System, will officially assume her role as EHF president and chief executive on Oct. 3, replacing founding CEO Elena Marks.

Barnes said the Foundation’s mission to improve health, not just health care, goes to the root of what causes poor quality health – especially in low-income populations and communities of color. She noted that improving health equity and underlying non-medical drivers starts by addressing poverty, housing, food security, social connectedness, employment and a person’s level of education.

“All of those impact a person’s life in such a way that it affects what decisions they’re able to make,” she said, “which in turn affects, ultimately, the outcomes of their health.”

Barnes, a native of Houston’s Fifth Ward, has worked with the city’s at-risk communities. She also served as the principal investigator for a National Institute of Health project that established a first-of-its-kind registry to understand factors that lead to successful weight-loss maintenance in African Americans.

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