Today’s students are deeply committed to making a difference in our community.
For Fresno State health and human services students, this goal includes helping Valley residents have a fair opportunity for long, meaningful lives. The Central Valley Health Policy Institute at Fresno State helps students and community members develop tools to shape our region’s health policies and practices.
The Bee recently published a series of reports detailing public-health problems impacting children and families in our region. These reports underscore the importance of timely, appropriate care in promoting health and well-being, but they also highlight causes that range from individual behaviors to the social environment. Through research, analysis and education, the institute helps Valley residents and leaders understand these health challenges and actions required to improve outcomes.
Research by the institute has shown that Valley residents have worse health than people in other parts of California and the nation. These differences occur across the life span: from high rates of adverse birth outcomes and childhood disease, to high risk for occupational and other injuries, to shortened lives for elders. These findings, chronicled in the institute’s 2012 “Place Matters for Health” report, reflect large differences between neighborhoods and communities in exposure to health risks and access to prevention resources.
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There is growing consensus that, if we want to sustain a thriving economy and offer bright prospects for young families, then public policies and individual practices must exist in order to manage environmental risks and make healthy choices easy in the places where we live, work, learn and play. The institute was created for this very reason — to help Valley residents achieve a fair and healthy region.
The health policy institute recently celebrated 13 years of serving the Valley. It offers a unique opportunity for Fresno State students, new graduates and community partners to participate in research and policy analysis. Additionally, through the institute’s health policy leadership program, over 220 community health professionals and advocates have worked with Fresno State faculty and students over the last 10 years to develop skills to spearhead policy and practice solutions to the Valley’s unique public health challenges. This is executed through community-engaged applied research and policy analysis. By giving emerging leaders hands-on experiences in shaping policy and practice, we are building the capacity of the Valley to offer all residents an opportunity for fair and equal health.
In May, the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State graduated 150 students in the public health field. Eleven received master’s degrees. These graduates are going into community health, environmental/occupational health and health administration. Many graduates participated in internships, trainings and institute reports offered by the institute.
Faculty members also collaborate with the institute to develop their research and service portfolios. This is further indication that having a local health policy and research center provides students and faculty a direct link to shaping cutting-edge public health debates.
The institute gives students and new, eager graduates the vital opportunity to engage in real-world research on topics impacting not just our region, but our nation. These topics include teen pregnancy, poverty, health disparities and health inequality among underserved populations. Having our student interns and graduates give a voice to these disadvantaged communities is one of the great benefits of the institute and one of the best ways to utilize the talent, drive and determination of our students and alumni.
Created in 2002, the institute came at a critical time. Community efforts were surfacing across the Valley, led by community organizers and advocates from disadvantaged and low-income communities. They desired change for their conditions, and they couldn’t do it alone.
The institute was a much-needed contribution to the Valley. As a research and policy institute, it shines a spotlight on our local challenges and contributes to the growing nationwide commitment to the elimination of health inequities, while providing essential learning tools for our next generation of graduates and public-health leaders.
Jody Hironaka-Juteau, Ed.D., is dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Fresno State.