An initiative to improve the health outcomes of Ward 7 and 8 residents seeks funds from the D.C. government to expand its work.
On April 9, Marissa I. McKeever, director of government and community affairs for Sibley Memorial Hospital, a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, testified at a budget meeting of the Committee on Health chaired by Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7) to convince him that her employer’s initiative needs a District government appropriation.
McKeever, joined by Mary Blackford, Market 7 founder, testified to Gray that the Ward Infinity initiative has the potential to make the difference in the lives of East End residents.
“Health outcomes across the District are unbalanced, with Wards 7 and 8 carrying the greatest burden,” McKeever said. “Residents in Ward 8 live, on average, 15 years less than residents in Ward 3. According to DC Health’s 2018 Heath Equity Report, for residents of the District, your zip code may be one of the most significant factors influencing your health.”
Sibley sits in Ward 3 and has operated as a hospital in the District since 1890. The Ward Infinity initiative marks the first time that Sibley has reached out to the residents of the East End of the city with a major program.
McKeever said The Ward Infinity initiative includes the Innovators in Residence program where East End residents and nonprofits partner with Sibley and participate in an innovative training and design program focusing on three themes: Food access, affordable housing and leveraging technology to improve health literacy.
The initiative had a class of 2017-2018 and $30,000 worth of scholarships given to eight Community Health Innovators in Residence.
McKeever said the second cohort class took form in January and received seed funding, coaching and technical assistance from public health experts at John Hopkins Medicine; learned the Sibley Innovation Method, a human-centered design process; collaborated to design and test creative solutions across the three priority areas; and received guidance from an advisory council of government and community leaders.
McKeever acknowledged that Gray and other District leaders call for transformational change to improve health outcomes across the city and said Ward Infinity is ”a pathway to that change.”
“But this sort of progress cannot persist on its own,” she said. “We are asking for funding to support the long-term sustainability of Ward Infinity. An investment of $350,000 in local funds will allow us to scale and deploy interventions that have been tested, and to support the graduates of this program as they work to continue the progress they have already made in a short time.”
McKeever introduced Blackford’s project as a “creative, indoor marketplace that offers a new opportunity for urban farmers, that increases access to healthy, fresh foods and at the same time builds an ecosystem of support for minority entrepreneurs.”
Blackford told Gray she participated in the Sibley program in 2017, its inaugural year, and that Ward Infinity has been useful.
“During our time in the program, we were able to learn many things about how to address the systemic food access issues through a community health lens,” Blackford said. “After nearly a year of testing our business prototype, we discovered quite a bit about how our community is affected by retail options.”
Blackford noted that East End residents spend as much money as residents west of the Anacostia River but still end up dying 15 years earlier. Nevertheless, she said, East End residents are making it work despite hurdles, adding that Ward 1 had 50 businesses participating in the District’s “Great Street” program that directs city dollars to businesses on leading corridors while Ward 7 only had 12.
“All the while we have community cafes preparing food in community centers, juice bars operating out of churches, and my pop-up operating out of an abandoned tire shop just to make ends meet,” Blackford said.
Blackford said 69 percent of Ward 7 residents shop for food in neighboring Ward 6 and 24 percent go to Maryland, but said Market 7 wants to meet the needs of Ward 7 residents, too.
Gray, a Ward 7 resident, said he would take into consideration support $350,000 for the Ward Infinity initiative. He bemoaned that just three full-service grocery stores serve 150,000 residents who live in Wards 7 and 8.
He complimented Sibley for launching the initiative, saying it “has made serious and substantive investments in Wards 7 and 8.”