Message from the Director

Earnestine Willis, MD, MPH

Earnestine Willis, MD, MPH

The differences in health among the poor and the wealthy in this nation is an astonishing injustice and one that we must not ignore. Everyone has a right to good health regardless of their background. The Institute for Health and Society was launched in July 2010 to improve health and advance health equity through community and academic partnerships. The Health Equity and Partnerships Division plays a critical role in achieving that mission. Our vision is to bridge the gap of health disparities among different races through collaborative partnerships with impacted communities through providing health education, recognizing the linkages to social determinants of health and improving access to health care.

Too many communities of color are trapped in poverty—to combat this, we must build a community/neighborhood where families can be healthy, flourish, and become productive citizens. We recognize that not only is health affected by unequal distribution of resources, but also discrimination, segregation, and racism.

Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These social determinants are mostly responsible for health inequities and impact health factors such as access to healthy food, transportation, jobs, and living in vibrant, crime-free neighborhoods, as well as safe and nonthreatening environments.

In 2005, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended three overarching strategies to the Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH) to provide advice on how to reduce them:

  1. Improve daily living conditions
  2. Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources
  3. Measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of actions

Our goal through this Division of Health Equity and Partnerships is to build and maintain authentic relationships throughout the broader community and to stay engaged across all sectors to foster healthy development. We have adopted the National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity, which identified five specific strategies to implement with our community partners:

  1. Increase awareness of the significance of health disparities, their impact on the nation, and the actions necessary to improve health outcomes for racial, ethnic, and underserved populations.
  2. Strengthen and broaden leadership for addressing health disparities at all levels.
  3. Improve health and healthcare outcomes for racial, ethnic, and underserved populations through health systems and life experience.
  4. Improve cultural and linguistic competency and the diversity of the health-related workforce.
  5. Improve the availability and coordination of data as well as the dissemination of research and evaluation outcomes.

Through the work of the Health Equity Division, we promote awareness regarding health disparities through the eHealth Equity Alert System, which provides timely and accurate health equity-related news, research and event announcements. Additionally, we cultivate relationships within the community to ensure that we are celebrating our differences in ways that allow us to be on the forefront of health improvement for underserved populations and those that are impacted by health disparities. Together with our partners, we will look at the root causes of ill health, health inequities, and the needs of those adversely affected by poverty to explore solutions to move us closer to health equity.

Everyone has the right to the resources that promote good health, such as good schools, clean neighborhoods free of crime, livable wage jobs, and access to health care. Inequality is bad for our health and we have a responsibility to be part of the promotion of healthy communities that support the people that live and work there through increasing awareness of health disparities and strengthening leadership to address those disparities. I urge you to partner with us in building bridges toward health equity so that we can strengthen each other’s efforts.


Earnestine Willis, MD, MPH
Kellner Professor in Pediatrics

Medical College of Wisconsin
8701 Watertown Plank Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226
(414) 955-8296
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Page Updated 02/26/2015