This public health nonprofit has been leading the way in research and healthcare solutions in NYC for 60 years.
Although New York City is oft depicted in mainstream movies and TV shows as a place with immense wealth, nearly half of the children who live in NYC live in poverty.
“There are all kinds of health ramifications, including physical and emotional health and education achievement,” Lisa David, President and CEO of Public Health Solutions, said. “The social determinants of health cause really pronounced disparities.”
This is what David is most passionate about. Her parents were involved in medicine and research and were activists.
“My home was an environment where you learned that you could—and should—make a difference in the world,” she said.
With a strong 60-year history in the heart of New York City, Public Health Solutions (PHS) has been the go-to healthcare solution and research partner for the communities throughout the city’s five boroughs of NYC since the late 1950s.
It’s one of the country's largest public health institutes and one of New York's leading nonprofit organizations in New York.
“We offer a variety of roles in public health initiatives,” said David. “We moved from a strictly research-based model nonprofit at our very start to offering many direct service programs and government-supported outreach to more than 220 community nonprofits today.
“Many of the grassroots organizations that we support have made incredible strides in reducing HIV rates, and would be challenged to sustain their work without our involvement. New York City is one of the best at spending its grant money, so on top of these services we can also offer a small amount of community education, outreach, and advocacy.”
In 1957, PHS was first established as Medical and Health and Research Association (MHRA), a division of the NYC Department of Health (NYCDOH). MHRA increased the public health research capacity of NYCDOH with initial projects such as an examination of the role of the social sciences in public health, public attitudes toward mental health, and patterns of medical care delivery.
When NYC experienced a fiscal crisis in the 1970s, NYCDOH shifted the management of healthcare programs ranging from its Maternal Infant Care/Family Planning Project to the Women Infant and Children Supplemental Food Program Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), to MHRA.
In the 1990s, the organization was selected by the city to administer federal funds for the Ryan White CARE Act, and established the HIV Care Services Program to develop networks of care in health, housing, and social services for people living with HIV and AIDS in the city.
A Focus on WICIn 2008, with a new tagline—”Merging Research and Action”—MHRA became Public Health Solutions to more accurately capture the essence of what the organization had grown to be. In the intervening years, the organization focused its research and action program efforts on maternal health, infant and child development, HIV/AIDS research, childhood obesity, nutrition education, healthy eating, and smoke-free programs.
Today the organization’s work with at-risk communities directly benefits over 200,000 adults and children every year.
“All of the work we do has been proven effective through extensive research. We deliver care in the way it is supposed to be delivered. It has a big impact.”
PHS invests, for instance, in the first three years of a child’s life, the most important period in brain development. By increasing access to food, nutrition, education, and family support services, PHS plays a positive role in countless people’s lives.
PHS’ eight neighborhood WIC centers target pregnant women and children through age five. With a focus on breast-feeding and nutrition education, this prescribed program addresses the specific needs of pregnant women, new mothers, and a child’s first years of development.
The organization also provides hands-on education about heathy food selection when shopping in grocery stores and farmer’s markets, and cooking nutritious meals for children. Over 40,000 women and children benefit from these programs, which are also equipped to enroll families for health insurance and food stamps.
PHS also provides four evidence-based, home-visiting programs to pregnant and parenting mothers. Our Nurse Home Visitors and Family Support Workers offer families resources and education to move them towards economic self-sufficiency.
“Our home-visiting staff are in the communities and available by phone and text. They develop strong relationships with the families they help, which in turn helps create healthier communities,” said David.
The organization sees positive outcomes, including a lower prevalence of low birth weight infants, improvements in school-readiness among children, and an increase in completed immunizations and preventative primary care.
“We’re helping parents be good parents,” David added.
But PHS’ impact goes far beyond this. Through a 20-month pilot program with four big health centers in NYC, the organization was able to change how low-income women get screened for contraception and plans around pregnancy. The work resulted in a significant increase in the number of women starting or continuing contraception—rates increased from 2 percent to 55 percent.
A Client-Centered Approach to Public HealthIn the end, PHS’ goal is to put the client at the center of what David calls a “fragmented delivery system.”
“There is currently a huge focus on redesigning the acute care system using reimbursement based on the value provided to patients,” she said. “Right now, that doesn’t happen. We want to be on the forefront of developing such models, have better integration and collaboration, and be a great partner with the government and nonprofits on emerging public health issues.”
“Ultimately, we want to make sure the client gets what they need. We are here, and we’re not going away. We’re committed to our communities.”
Public Health Solutions (PHS) is the largest public health nonprofit in New York City. The organization promotes health among the city’s most vulnerable communities by tackling social and physical factors that affect New Yorkers’ ability to thrive. PHS helps individuals, families, and communities across a remarkable range of areas—food and nutrition, reproductive health, maternal and infant health, HIV/AIDS/STD prevention and care, smoke-free housing, and more. PHS integrates public health research, community services, and collaborations with government agencies and community-based organizations to reduce health inequalities. Improvements in health save lives, reduce medical costs, prevent disease, move people toward self-sufficiency, and improve community well-being.