Experts in urban health and other related issues from
across Johns Hopkins divisions convened for a half-day
retreat on May 30 to help refocus work of the
Hopkins Urban Health Institute and set a future course
for the now 6-year-old organization.
The retreat, held at the Hopkins-owned Mt. Washington
Conference Center, was the first of a series called
Baltimore Conversations that will convene university
affiliates and community partners in order to initiate
long-term sustainable efforts to improve the health and
outcomes for the city's population. Among the expertises
brought to the table were public policy, education, public
health and medicine.
Established in 2000, the Urban Health Institute aims
to better focus the efforts of urban health experts from
throughout The Johns Hopkins University and the Johns
Hopkins Health System on the serious community health
problems in East Baltimore and other sections of the city.
It also seeks to promote evidence-based interventions to
solve urban health problems nationwide. The UHI's four
principal goals are to provide economic stimulus to the
community through training and employment assistance,
strengthen and enhance community-based research
partnerships, enhance the infrastructure of the community
and provide residents with 100 percent access to health
care with no disparities.
The May 30 retreat featured 52 Johns Hopkins faculty,
staff and administrators, including Michael Klag, dean of
the Bloomberg School of
Public Health; James McPartland, director of the
Center for Social
Organization of Schools; Sheldon Greenberg, director of
SPSBE's divison of Public
Safety Leadership; and Sandra Newman, director of the
Institute for Policy Studies.
The proceedings were led by Robert Blum, the William
H. Gates Sr. Chair of the
Department of Population and Family Health Sciences in
the School of Public Health, who since May 1 has served as
interim director of the Urban Health Institute. Claude Earl
Fox, the first permanent director of the institute, left
his post in February to assume a new position at the
University of Miami.
Blum said the departure of Fox and the "interim"
period provided both a need and an opportunity to rethink
and refocus where the UHI should be going.
"We wanted to ask ourselves, Are there things Hopkins
should be doing as an institution to better engage the
communities in which we live and work? And are there things
that we can be doing more of, or differently, that would
make a difference?" Blum said. "Secondly, can we learn from
what other institutions are doing that have developed model
community-university collaborations? Also, can we better
serve as a portal for people in the community? Getting
[access to] Hopkins is very difficult. Who is the right
person to be calling, or who at Hopkins has expertise in a
particular area that could help in a community-based
project? This sort of activity, I feel, the Urban Health
Institute should be doing more of."
Blum said the goals of this first conversation were to
provide an opportunity where Johns Hopkins affiliates could
meet other university personnel who were working on
Baltimore-related issues, and to start thinking about
collective points of intervention.
"Many of these folks have never sat at the same table
before. They didn't personally know each other," Blum
The day consisted of two major sessions. Specifically,
participants with similar areas of expertise first broke
off into thematic groups--ones on education, aging, drug
abuse, etc.--and were asked to come up with three to five
ideas that, if taken to scale, would improve the health and
well-being of Baltimore citizens. For the second session,
the participants were jumbled up and asked to take these
ideas and narrow down those that would have the highest
payoff and greatest impact.
Marion Pines, a senior fellow at the Institute for
Policy Studies and an expert on education and after-school
issues, said that the retreat was useful if for no other
reason than to meet colleagues with similar interests and
to begin to bring the university divisions together for a
Pines said that while many of the ideas presented were
"exciting and promising," the true test is to begin to
tease out some common goals and foster collaboration across
Blum said that, moving forward, the Urban Health
Institute and the various players in Baltimore
Conversations will begin to focus on consensus building and
trying to determine what Johns Hopkins' role should be,
whether it's to facilitate initiatives, provide a
leadership or participatory role or conduct direct
interventions in consort with community groups.
The next Baltimore Conversation is scheduled for July
18 at the Mt. Washington Conference Center and will involve
a new group of 52 university participants. Following that
meeting, Blum said, the Urban Health Institute will host
conversations strictly with community leaders and
On Sept. 8, the UHI plans to host a large-scale
conversation that includes both university and community
members to help bridge the two groups and to begin to
identify specific target areas and initiatives. Blum
envisions a group of 100 to 120 people, evenly divided
between Hopkins and community members, who will participate
in the meeting.
Blum said that by the end of the year he would like to
have a new "blueprint plan" for the Urban Health Institute,
"one that would state what it is that JHU can be doing more
of and differently, together with our community partners,
that would improve the outcomes of folks here," he said.
"For the Urban Health Institute to be what it should be, we
need to have these ongoing conversations with community
folks and within Hopkins. What I hope will happen is that
over time the conversations continue but the focus gets
For more information on the Urban Health Institute, go