FPHNYC and NYC Department of Health Awarded Funding to Develop a Guide for the New York City Mural Arts Project

The Fund for Public Health in New York City (FPHNYC) and the New York City (NYC) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene have received funding from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund to support the development of a program facilitation manual for the New York City Mural Arts Project (NYCMAP).

The New York City Mural Arts Project, which began in November 2016, uses a collaborative mural-making process to discuss mental health and foster new social interactions in New York City, where one in five New Yorkers suffer from some kind of mental health disorder and at least eight percent suffer from depression.

The program connects people living with mental health conditions, mental health service providers, artists, peer specialists (people who have experienced mental illness and are trained to support others), City government agencies, and community members, to break down misconceptions and stigma. NYCMAP then translates the discussion themes into murals that incorporate the diversity and strength of everyone involved in the mural-making process.

The one-year award from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is one of the first grants in the Illumination Fund’s new Arts in Health initiative. It will support the creation of a facilitation manual to guide future NYCMAP peer specialists and artists in their activities and interactions with participating communities. Developed by a leading scholar on mental health and stigma practices, the manual will standardize program implementation.

“We are excited about this new phase of the NYC Mural Arts Project,” said Sara Gardner, executive director of the Fund for Public Health in New York City. “This support will enhance a remarkable program that is helping to elevate a broader and more open discussion about mental health and community health.”

Turning The Tide on Swimming Fatalities

Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental deaths among children aged 1 to 19 years old in the United States. These fatalities are even more prevalent among African American youth aged 5 to 19 years old. They are six times more likely to fatally drown than Whites and Hispanics of the same age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In New York City (NYC), many communities of color have limited access to swimming pools as a result of underinvestment in these communities, and a history of racial discrimination that limited access for African Americans and other minorities to swimming pools. Additionally, in many of these areas, the only publicly accessible pools are located in school buildings, which aren’t open during the summer months when schools aren’t in session.

To address these issues, in 2015, the Health Department (along with the NYC Department of Education, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Youth and Community Development) launched Making Waves, a program that provides free water safety and swim instruction to children 6 to 18 years old from low-income neighborhoods. The program aims to reduce the disproportionate risk of unintentional drowning among Black and Latino youth, as well as provide opportunities for physical activity and recreation.

Since the start of the program, participation has nearly tripled – from 524 children in 2015 to more than 1,400 in the summer of 2017. The Health Department plans to work with the Department of Education to expand the program from five to 25 pools, increasing enrollment to 9,000 young people annually. As a long-term goal, Making Waves hopes to offer an after-school program at select schools where students can train to become certified instructors and lifeguards.

“The risk of drowning is a serious health concern, particularly in low income Black communities,” said Sara Gardner, executive director of the Fund for Public Health in New York City. “Making Waves helps address a historical wrong with a recreational program that improves safety and is fun!”

New York City’s Public Health Laboratory Helps Train the Next Generation of Laboratory Microbiologists

This week Marvin Rivera spent almost 40 hours processing and testing various samples at the New York City Public Health Laboratory (PHL), where he is one of several newly hired laboratory microbiologists to join PHL. What might seem like a monotonous job to some is just what Rivera hoped for when he began working at the lab as a trainee last summer.

“I always knew I wanted to do this work,” he said. “I worked in labs in high school and in college  and I always preferred the testing and diagnosis part to the patient interaction part.”

The PHL opened in 1892 as the Municipal Bacteriological Lab, working to control diphtheria, a deadly infectious disease that, five years prior, had led to more than 4,500 deaths in New York City (NYC). Since then, PHL has successfully tested, analyzed and reported results on emerging viruses, diseases and environmental agents, and works to control outbreaks such as Zika, Ebola and Legionnaires’ disease. In fact, it is the only laboratory in the city equipped to handle testing for “white powder jobs,” a term coined after the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Despite extensive technological resources and the ability to review and test some of the most dangerous pathogens, public health labs often struggle to stay adequately staffed. Public health laboratories across the nation face a shortage of qualified individuals at both leadership and technical levels.

Therefore, in 2016, the New York City PHL and the Fund for Public Health in New York City, with $100,000 in funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, developed a one-year pilot program, “Creating Career Pathways to the New York City Public Health Laboratory.” The program trains recent Hunter College Medical Laboratory Sciences program graduates, aiming to ultimately hire them as full-time Laboratory Microbiologists within the NYC Health Department.

“Public health laboratory science is a very specific field, and not every school has a medical laboratory science program,” said Andrea DeVito, special assistant to the assistant commissioner at the NYC Public Health Laboratory. “As a result, many students aren’t familiar with it when they begin undergrad, and often go into more popular areas of study such as pre-medicine.” In addition, public health labs compete with high-paying private hospital and clinical labs for new hires.

DeVito manages the grant and the program, which is currently wrapping up its inaugural year of recruiting and training three recent Hunter College graduates, who all come from underrepresented communities.

Laboratory microbiologists Marvin Rivera and Mously Lo are part of that inaugural class. Last summer, they began working as paid trainees at the PHL where they learned the ropes and studied for their New York State (NYS) clinical licensure exam. Over six months, they worked closely with laboratory staff and administrators for 25 hours a week, rotating through lab sections such as microbiology and virology. They learned to identify bacterial pathogens like salmonella, Neisseria gonorrhea and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and detect viruses like Zika and measles.

“It’s great,” said Lo. “You get to see something every day and you’re constantly working on new things.”

All three trainees passed their NYS licensure exam (a requirement for testing clinical specimens in NYS). NYC PHL hired two of the three trainees as full-time laboratory microbiologists. The third trainee accepted a position at a hospital laboratory. The new hires will contribute to the work that helps keep 8.5 million New Yorkers safe and healthy.

“This pilot has been a resounding success,” said Dr. Jennifer Rakeman, assistant commissioner and laboratory director at PHL. “The long-term goal is to sustain the program so that PHL can continue to develop talented microbiologists and further strengthen the relationship between the Medical Laboratory Science program at Hunter College and the NYC PHL.”