Last month, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. appointed pediatrician Chisara Asomugha as the city’s new community services administrator. Asomugha’s predecessor, Kica Matos, focused on immigration rights and helped create the controversial Elm City Resident Card program, which garnered national attention and spurred a federal raid in the city’s Fair Haven neighborhood. Under Matos, the Community Services Administration initiated social initiative programs such as Youth@Work, which provides part-time jobs for New Haven public school students, and the Prison Re-entry Initiative, which supports ex-felon rehabilitation. Now that Asomugha has taken the reins, she said she plans to shift focus from adults and social issues to youth and health issues. In a sit-down interview with the News on Thursday, the alumna of Yale’s post-graduate Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program for new physician-leaders spoke about her plans as the new CSA.
Q: What will be the focus of your tenure?
A: While I’m here, given the fact that I am a pediatrician and health is very important to me, the health and well-being of New Haven residents — whether they’re young or old, transgenerational or transcultural — and how people can be engaged in the community will be my focus.
Q:Why have you chosen to take on a role in government instead of your own private practice?
AThere is an emerging generation of physicians who believe in the power of clinical medicine but think that to have a broader impact or influence, there is a need to get people on board with health-mindedness. I see myself as a bridge. My reason for coming into this was that I am a physician. A pediatrician has access to not only kids but also their families, the education system, the economic situation, transportation — all of these issues that circle around a young kid. You start to say, “How can I be an advocate for those kids that I see in the clinic?” You see an opportunity to help, and you take it.
Q: What is your plan of action for the creation of new health policies?
A: Health is not just about your physiological well-being. Health is about your economic stability, poverty, your mental state and your built environment. Do you have enough parks and creative spaces where you can thrive? What [I’m] thinking in terms of health policy is promoting the idea of health-mindedness. We have just received a grant from the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, which chose three cities out of the state of Connecticut to help implement a Health Equity Index … We are trying to send out a message that your health is not just about going to the doctor.
Q: City bureaucracy is tough. It’s slow. But I guess you understand that, considering you went through medical school.
A: [Laughs] The training process in medicine might be a long one, but there is instant gratification in the clinic. It will be the same thing with this job — there are long-term projects and quicker ones.
Q: How will you differ from Matos?
A: I don’t think there’s any difference between myself and her. When you have motivated, dedicated and committed individuals, a lot can be done. I see that there is a desire to help the community, and that is what pushes [both of] us.