Take 5 with Fawn Rhodes
Too many people in New Hanover County don’t get the health care they need. As the area’s first public health equity coordinator, FAWN RHODES is determined to change that.
“There are so many people who experience health inequity and disparity,” says Rhodes. “They include Black and Brown populations, veterans, the disabled, seniors, and the queer community. Health inequity occurs in all populations, but sometimes it’s more prevalent in certain pockets.”
As public health equity coordinator, Rhodes addresses the most important health issues facing these underserved populations. When she took the position this past January, Rhodes focused primarily on COVID and monkeypox. Now that the county is no longer on red alert, Rhodes is adding other health issues affecting these populations to her workload.
One of the most pressing is lack of housing.
“When you think about health, food, shelter, safety, and security must be addressed,” says Rhodes. “We must get people stable and secure, then we can begin to address the disease.”
Through Rhodes’s work, some families have already gotten help. She initiated programs with the Wilmington Housing Authority and the New Hanover Disaster Coalition to assist approximately 180 families who have been displaced due to mold remediation. Through their efforts, the families have received food, clothing, and furniture.
“I saw what was most pressing,” Rhodes says. “We needed to work together to bring minor relief to these families and to work together to resolve an issue that directly impacted our community.”
Rhodes is tackling other issues as well. Through the policies and procedures she is setting up, Rhodes hopes to have reduced health inequities and disparities in the region by 10% within five years. Additionally, Rhodes wants to improve food insecurities for local Black and Brown communities and ensure seniors have access to health care. This latter goal entails setting up programs in which health care workers go into seniors’ homes, learn what they need, and providing services such as blood pressure and glucose checks.
“Access to health care for seniors doesn’t always mean transportation,” Rhodes says. “Boomers are so independent they are ashamed to say they need help. We need to knock on their doors, assess their situations, and build trust.”
Rhodes is also the person people come to when they need help resolving personal health care issues.
“Sometimes I’m dealing with a group, sometimes I’m dealing with an individual,” Rhodes says. “It’s a case-by-case situation.”
Rhodes is uniquely qualified for the role of public health equity coordinator. She has a bachelor’s degree in behavioral and social sciences from North Carolina Central University and is earning her master’s degree in public health from the University of North Carolina.
But it’s Rhodes‘s personal history that allows her to relate to those she serves, gives her insights into their situations, and engenders trust. Rhodes, who was a single mother for years, knows what it’s like to struggle. Due to financial constraints, it took her 31 years to earn her bachelor’s degree. She’s also had to, on occasion, turn to social services for help. As Rhodes says, she’s walked the path of many of her clients
For Rhodes, what started out as a job has turned into a calling.
“This is where I want to be,” Rhodes says. “Advocacy for the least of us is a reflection of my heart.”
Take 5 with Fawn Rhodes
What populations experience health inequity in our area? “So many people have health inequity and disparity. There are a lot of marginalized populations, everyone from black and brown populations, veterans, the disabled, seniors, and the queer community.”
What are the major health issues facing New Hanover County? “COVID and monkeypox. However, now that we are not on red alert, we are also addressing issues specific to our county. Housing is a major issue in our area. When you think about health, you must address food, shelter, safety, and security first. Get people stable, then we can address the disease.”
Do you work with individuals or groups of people to ensure they get the health care they need? “Sometimes, I deal with an individual, and sometimes I deal with a group. It’s a case-by-case situation.”
What are your goals for reducing health inequities in the county? “Within five years I hope to have reduced health inequities and disparities by 10%. Other key areas I want to work on are food insecurities for our black and brown communities and getting seniors access to care. We have to go into seniors’ actual space. Often the reason boomers don’t get care isn’t transportation. It’s shame, so we need to knock on their doors and build trust.”
Why is this job important to you? “Once I made a connection with the families, I realized this is where I want to be. There is nothing like doing work in your own backyard, making a difference, and helping people who know you and your family.”
To view more of photographer Terah Hoobler’s work, go to terahhoobler.com.
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