Nearly 100 students and faculty members packed into the Yale Child Study Center on Wednesday night to learn how to become better advocates for community health care reform.

The talk, titled “Toward a Just System: Primary Care, Population Health and Economic Reform,” explored how to build the movement of health care reform from the local level upward. The U.S. Health Justice Collaborative — a student-organized network of future health professionals and community members — hosted the event, which drew students from the Yale schools of medicine, nursing, public health and management, as well as from the nearby Quinnipiac School of Medicine.

Event speaker Michael Fine, a family physician, spoke of his experience creating population-based primary care services and multidisciplinary public health collaborations in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Fine currently serves as health policy advisor to the mayor of Central Falls and senior population health and clinical services officer at Blackstone Valley Health Care Inc. He also founded the Scituate Health Alliance, a nonprofit organization that helped Scituate, Rhode Island, become the first community in the United States to provide primary medical and dental care to all its residents.

U.S. Health Justice Collaborative members Robert Rock MED ’18 and Alex Weiner NUR ’19 invited Fine to speak at Yale after listening to an inspiring Grand Rounds talk he gave for the Mount Sinai Health System Grand Rounds last spring, they said.

“We were determined to connect [Fine’s] brilliant ideas around population health without health justice community to help us reimagine our local primary care system,” Weiner said. “It’s really helpful to hear from a person who has blazed a trail — I hope the social justice frame he took for his presentation resonated with everyone.”

Fine began by discussing his inspiration for becoming a family physician and the impact that primary care can have on underserved communities. He described the importance of establishing neighborhood health centers, which can be made more influential via successful partnerships with city government, hospitals and community groups.

A large portion of Fine’s presentation was dedicated to statistics about the health care system’s inefficiencies, as well as the economic benefits of incorporating primary care resources into communities. He also offered the audience specific strategies for becoming better advocates, pushing the mantra of “stand up, speak up and act up.”

“The work we do at the local level is critical for impacting policy,” Fine told the News. “[Health care] in the United States is a political problem because we don’t really have political consensus about what we need to do. This is an attempt to resolve that political confusion by shining a light on something that is working. We need to not just see what works, but also create popular support for what works.”

The talk closed with an animated Q&A session with audience members, who discussed ways to become more productive players in community health care reform, both as individuals and as part of an institution like Yale.

Rock said that he thought Fine’s presentation was timely and cut through “a lot of the decorum that involves speaking circles around the issue.” Constructive conversations like these remind him that he is not alone in being passionate about domestic health justice, he said.

“Medical school isn’t easy, and advocating for equity can be very isolating in institutions like this,” Rock said. “Taking the time to make space, both physically and temporally, for people to come together and reaffirm what brought us here in the first place is really meaningful.”

Rock added that he hopes the U.S. Health Justice Collaborative can provide students and other New Haven residents with an “intellectual home,” a space for sharing resources and insights into how to improve the community.

Audience members noted that the talk renewed their commitment to resolving health injustice. Vanessa Correia NUR ’19 said the conversation reinforced her belief that health professionals must present a united front in order to make widespread access to primary care the new norm.

“I think that everything Dr. Fine stands for is super important for everyone who wants to go into primary care ,” said Emma Kleck NUR ’19. “The more that I go through my education, the more it’s become clear to me that caring for patients is not just going through the clinical motions of assessing and diagnosing someone; it’s also about how to tie that together with what’s going on at the administrative and community level.”

The U.S. Health Justice Collaborative will continue the discussion next week at their first community potluck of the semester. This year, Weiner said the team looks forward to reaching out to more activists in the community, both to solidify the collaborative’s network and to strengthen ties between Yale and New Haven.

Ellen Kanellen.kan@yale.edu