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St. Louis health officials seek residents’ input on health priorities

Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, outside of the City of St. Louis Department of Health. Dr. Davis is the first Black woman Health Director in St. Louis history.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, St. Louis health director, is asking city residents to complete an online community survey on health priorities.

The St. Louis Health Department wants to hear from city residents about the health concerns health officials should prioritize over the next year.

To seek that input, city officials are asking St. Louisans to fill out an online community survey. It asks people to choose two of six wellness issues: gun violence, sexually transmitted diseases, mental and behavioral health, emergency preparedness, food safety and nutrition and active living.

St. Louisans should be leading health conversations with officials, said the city's health director, Dr. Matifadza Hlatshwayo Davis.

"We can really make sure that those priorities align with what's happening with people at home,” Hlatshwayo Davis said. ”But if people at home aren't engaged in this process ... then it will be people in offices that are sometimes very far removed from what's happening on the ground that will define where those dollars are going and what the priorities are.”

As the new health director, she wants to look at all concerns through a lens of equity while engaging with the community.

“The goal here is to empower our city residents to advocate on behalf of their own health, not to have to lean into what is being told to them,” Hlatshwayo Davis said.

City health officials have collected about 400 public health surveys but need more input from people in south and north St. Louis. The survey also includes questions about residents' awareness of the health department and potential health department slogans.

Alderwoman Pam Boyd, D-27th Ward, said she wants the department to focus on gun violence and mental health.

Boyd said that residents in her ward see or hear about gun violence every day and that it is traumatizing their communities, which is why she wants health officials to provide north St. Louis with more mental health counselors.

“They are asking questions that I think our community is not even looking at as a health issue within our community, like the gun violence,” she said. “And so people don't connect the dots that gun violence is not just about the gun fight, it's about mental health — it causes us to commit violence with guns.”

Boyd also would like to see more residents take advantage of city health services. However, she said officials have to reach them in ways other than surveys because some people in north St. Louis are unaware of the services the city’s health department offers.

“The surveys are fine, but sometimes you got to go to the people. You can't keep relying on social media. You can't keep relying on emails,” Boyd said. “You have to go knock on doors and talk to people who have conversations about these issues.”

Health officials say the department will make the results available to residents and use the information to plan community health events and informational sessions, but people must respond to the questionnaire.

“I really want to encourage people to just take that extra five to ten minutes so that we can include your voice in your community, it can be represented in this and prioritized,” Hlatshwayo Davis said.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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