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Menino's public health efforts honored at Open Classroom

Reflecting on his 20-​​year tenure, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said on Wednesday that taking polit­ical risks is one of the prin­ci­ples that has guided his lead­er­ship on public health ini­tia­tives. One such risk was a con­tro­ver­sial city­wide clean needle exchange and edu­ca­tion pro­gram aimed at reducing HIV/​ AIDS trans­mis­sion. Another was a smoking ban in work­places, including restau­rants and bars—an announce­ment he made on Valentine’s Day in 1998.

“I said it was a gift to everyone’s heart,” Menino recalled, acknowl­edging that the mea­sure faced resis­tance early on. “But at the end of the day,” he said, “the smoking ban was about pro­tecting people from second-​​hand smoke. I think most people came to under­stand that.”

“When it comes to con­tro­ver­sial issues, you can’t be afraid to take a stand,” he added.

Menino served as the keynote speaker at Northeastern’s Open Class­room Series, a graduate-​​level sem­inar run by the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and held each semester that is free and open to both the campus com­mu­nity and public. This semester’s series, titled “Policy for a Healthy America,” is taught by asso­ciate pro­fessor Tim­othy Hoff, who has joint appoint­ments in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness; John Auer­bach, Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of the Prac­tice and director of the Insti­tute on Urban Health Research in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences; and Wendy Parmet, Matthews Dis­tin­guished Uni­ver­sity Pro­fessor of Law. The Open Class­room is held Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m. in West Vil­lage F and runs through Dec. 4.

Judyann Bigby, the state's former Secretary of Health and Human Services who also served as the mayor's personal physician, lauded Menino for his public health legacy.

Judyann Bigby, the state’s former Sec­re­tary of Health and Human Ser­vices who also served as the mayor’s per­sonal physi­cian, lauded Menino for his public health legacy.

This semester’s series dove­tails with Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to pur­suing both use-​​inspired research that addresses global chal­lenges in health as well as its own health ini­tia­tives, including last month’s imple­men­ta­tion of a smoke-​​free campus policy.

The event fea­tured a panel of dis­tin­guished health leaders: JudyAnn Bigby, the state’s former Health and Human Ser­vices Sec­re­tary and director of com­mu­nity health pro­grams at Brigham and Women’s Hos­pital; Azzie Young, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Mat­tapan Com­mu­nity Health Center; and Matthew Fishman, vice pres­i­dent for com­mu­nity health at Part­ners HealthCare.

Menino will con­clude his tenure in Jan­uary. On Wednesday, speakers praised his public health lead­er­ship, which was also high­lighted in a video tribute to his career. His accom­plish­ments include merging two hos­pi­tals to create Boston Med­ical Center and the Boston Public Health Com­mis­sion; expanding and improving access to com­mu­nity health cen­ters; and launching an ambi­tious ini­tia­tive to study and elim­i­nate racial and ethnic health disparities.

Bigby, who was Menino’s per­sonal physi­cian, com­mended the mayor for using his battle with a rare but treat­able form of skin cancer as the impetus to launch a public aware­ness cam­paign urging res­i­dents and workers to get reg­ular cancer screenings.

Auer­bach, who pre­vi­ously led the Boston Public Health Com­mis­sion, added, “At the heart of his work has been his con­cern for the health and well-​​being of the city’s residents.”

More than 150 people attended the Open Classroom on Wednesday night.

More than 150 people attended the Open Class­room on Wednesday night.

All these mea­sures, Menino stressed, have been achieved through key part­ner­ships and col­lab­o­ra­tions. He also noted that one of the toughest public health bat­tles he’s faced in office was ban­ning soda and other sugary drinks from public schools.

“It’s not about doing what’s going to help you as a politi­cian; it’s about doing what’s going to help improve the lives of your con­stituents,” he said.

– By Greg St. Martin

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