A Friendship Strengthened by Time

A Friendship Strengthened by Time

Over the past 30 years, they’ve come together to celebrate birthdays and weddings and the births (and later graduations) of their children. They’ve shared parenting tips and career advice and business practices and home remedies. They’ve vacationed together and collaborated professionally and promoted each other’s organizations. They’ve stood by one another through illness and divorce and the loss of loved ones. “I call them my sisters,” says Terri Wright, MPH ’83, of the three women she befriended at the School of Public Health in the early 1980s and with whom she has remained close ever since.

When they first met in Ann Arbor, there were few African-American students at SPH, and so the four women drew together, convinced that with each other’s help they could find the wisdom and stamina they needed to get through school. All four later joined the SPH Alumni Board of Governors, and for years Ann Arbor “served as our gathering place,” remembers Neysa Dillon Brown, MHSA ’83.

Brown adds that professionally and personally, the four share “a very deep commitment to improving the health status and access to services for individuals who are in need.” Collectively, they’ve used their public health training and education to improve the health and well-being of people in Michigan, Louisiana, Georgia, New York, Connecticut, and the Caribbean.

Last December, the four got together again with their respective families to celebrate the holidays—and three decades of friendship. Wright says it’s been especially gratifying to experience the aging process together. “How special it is to share our experiences growing older—what we love, what pains us, what we would have done differently, what makes us laugh out loud, the memories that we share—the ones that are great and the ones that are not so great. We have been each other’s rock,” she says, “and that was created through our experience at the School of Public Health.”

Marsha Broussard, MPH ’83, DrPH

After attaining a master’s degree in public health in 1982 and working in ambulatory care in Detroit, Michigan, Marsha Broussard began making her mark in public health policy as the executive director of the Louisiana Primary Care Association (1987–1991). There, she facilitated passage of state laws to develop both a Bureau of Primary Care and a state loan repayment program, both of which were catalysts for an expansion of community health centers (now federally qualified health centers) in Louisiana.

Broussard subsequently directed the New Orleans (NOLA) Healthy Start Program (formerly Great Expectations) through its successful pilot phase, steering a collaborative of medical schools, local providers, and an army of lay health workers and social support staff towards the second most effective Healthy Start project nationwide. According to an evaluation study by Mathematica Inc., the NOLA Healthy Start reduced Louisiana’s infant mortality rate by a statistically significant level.

Broussard went on to earn a doctorate in community health sciences from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 2011, and she is now focusing her skills and experience on improving the health and educational success of NOLA’s youth. “Far too many of our youth face seemingly insurmountable challenges that are stymying their opportunities for success in school and in life,” she says, noting that long-term good health and quality of life are associated with educational attainment. “When we successfully integrate preventive health and education initiatives, we can positively change the trajectory for many of our youth.”

Terri Wright, MPH ’83

As director of the Center for School, Health and Education Division of Public Health Policy and Practice at the American Public Health Association, Terri Wright provides leadership to the strategic development and integration of public health in school-based health care and education. Before joining APHA in 2010, she served for 12 years as a program director for health policy at the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan. In that capacity she developed and reviewed the foundation’s health programming priorities and initiatives, evaluated and recommended proposals for funding, and administered projects and initiatives. She also assisted in public policy analysis and related policy program development, as well as providing leadership to the foundation’s school-based health care policy program.

Prior to her work with the Kellogg Foundation, Wright was maternal and child health director and bureau chief for Child and Family Services at the Michigan Department of Community Health in Lansing, Michigan. In that role, she managed policy, programs, and resources with the goal of reducing preventable maternal, infant, and child morbidity and mortality. Wright received her bachelor’s degree in community and school health, as well as her New York State certification in secondary school education, from the City University of New York. She earned an MPH in health planning and administration from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, where she is currently a doctoral candidate.

Wright takes an active leadership role in several professional associations and community organizations, including the American Public Health Association and the Institute of Medicine’s Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity and the Elimination of Health Disparities.

Neysa Dillon Brown, MHSA ’83

During her 25 years in health care, Neysa Dillon Brown has earned recognition for her work addressing health disparity issues and developing diverse health care management teams to meet organizational and business priorities. As senior vice president of Desir Group Human Capital Management, she focuses on partnering with hospitals and health care systems in the areas of talent management, diversity recruitment, leadership assessments, and community engagement strategies.

As director of education—and one of the original staff members—at the Institute for Diversity in Health Management, an affiliate of the American Heart Association , Dillon Brown was able to formalize her deep commitment to mentoring by placing over 500 students in health care organizations throughout the U.S. “My proudest moment in recent years has been to witness these professionals I mentored who are now COOs and CEOs of health care organizations,” she says. “They are our new leaders!”

Dillon Brown is a former senior consultant with Health Equity, the Center for Diversity in Health Research, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation, where she developed community-based innovation strategies to address disparities in pre-term births, conducted employee and community focus groups, and surveyed health disparity programs. She is also a past director of education at the Institute for Diversity in Health Management in the Health Science Center of the State University of New York, Brooklyn, where she served in a number of capacities including assistant provost for student affairs. A frequent volunteer with professional associations, Dillon Brown is affiliated with the American College of Healthcare Executives, the American Society of Healthcare Human Resources Administration, and the National Association of Healthcare Executives.

Linda Blount, MPH ’89

Linda Blount began her public health career in 1989 working in HIV/AIDS with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where she developed GIS systems to track infections and developed models for deploying resources to find and treat people living with HIV and AIDS. The first decision-support system used at CDC, this became the basis of the Wide-ranging On-line Data for Epidemiological Research (WONDER) system still in use today.

Blount subsequently took her GIS and analytic skills to Trinidad and Tobago, where she developed STI information systems to track and report test results for nine Caribbean countries as well as Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa. She also established a laboratory system for test results reporting for the Ministry of Health in Aruba.

In 1998, Blount took a slight detour from public health when she joined the Coca-Cola Company, where she focused on the European market and the use of data and analytics to understand product development and consumer sentiment. “While Coke may not have seemed like a logical choice, the very valuable lesson I learned was the importance of marketing,” she says. “We in public health need to do a much better job of ‘selling’ health to people.” Blount did just that from 2004 to 2010 when, as the American Cancer Society’s first-ever National Vice President for Health Disparities, she spearheaded efforts to communicate the importance of screening and preventive care for the underserved.

Today Blount is vice president for programmatic impact at the United Way of Greater Atlanta, where she works with over a hundred grantees and the for-profit industry to disrupt the cycle of poverty and improve lives through education, health, and financial and housing stability. “If it weren’t for the analytic grounding I got at Michigan,” she says, “I would never have been able to work across sectors to help each see their role in solving our society’s most intractable problems.”