Washtenaw United: UWWC Woman of the Year Jimena Loveluck - Working for equity and equality in public health for three decades
WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw County to explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'
ABOUT JIMENA LOVELUCK:
Ms. Loveluck began her role as Health Officer on September 1, 2019 after serving two years as the Washtenaw County Health Department’s first Deputy Health Officer. Prior to joining the Washtenaw County Health Department, she was the President/CEO of the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Ypsilanti and led the merger with AIDS Partnership Michigan in 2015, resulting in one of the largest HIV service organizations in Southeast Michigan.
Ms. Loveluck received her Master’s degree in Social Work from Boston College in 1990, with a concentration in Community Organizing/Social Policy and Planning. Her public health career has spanned 30 years with a focus on health equity, HIV prevention and care, harm reduction, community engagement and community-based participatory research.
UWWC is a proud partner with the Washtenaw County Health Department (WCHD). Most recently, in 2021 we invested nearly $24,000 to support their COVID-19 vaccine outreach efforts in historically excluded neighborhoods.
Between 2015 through 2018, through the Coordinated Funders partnership, the Washtenaw Health Plan received more than $189,000 to support convening and aligning community organizations and groups delivering safety net health services.
David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the first in a series of Women's History Month conversations as part of our Washtenaw United series. I'm David Fair, and Washtenaw United is a weekly series we dedicate to exploring issues of equity and opportunity in our community. The women we are going to feature through the month will provide that perspective through reflections, assessments, and future visioning of their personal and professional journeys. Our guest today is a name familiar to this area for three decades or so and, at present, serves as health officer for the Washtenaw County Health Department. Jimena Loveluck was also named the United Way Washtenaw County Woman of the Year and will be so honored at the organization's annual Power of the Purse event on Wednesday of this week, March 9th. Jimena, congratulations and thank you so much for making time for us today.
Jimena Loveluck: Thank you so much, David. I'm so happy to be with you. Welcome back.
David Fair: The conversations that you and I have had reach back decades through some of the most troubling and difficult times. You led the HIV/AIDS Resource Center in Ypsilanti. What did that experience start to teach you about inequities in health care and the role prejudice and discrimination can play in achieving equitable outcomes?
Jimena Loveluck: Well, I have to say that my work in HIV, and specifically my work with the HIV/AIDS Resource Center of almost over 20 years, really solidified my commitment to addressing health inequities in our county. HIV continues to be an illness that disproportionately impacts people of color, and I think in the work that we did at Harken while I was there as director, and now they continue to do as Unified HIV Health and Beyond, we continue to make strides to ensure that people living with HIV have access to treatment and that people have access to the resources in order to live full, healthy lives. But there's no doubt that HIV continues to carry a stigma, and that is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed and is part of what led me to really value engagement with community, engagement with people living with HIV, really learning from them and their lived experience to ensure that we were doing everything that was possible to make care and resources more equitably accessible.
David Fair: On that front, we know that with proper medications, people can live a normal lifespan with HIV, and yet the cost of the appropriate medications makes it inaccessible for all too many. It's a tale all too familiar for those living with a great number of health maladies. Taking it from that glass half full perspective that you just presented, how far have we come and how far do we have to go when it comes to achieving that health equity?
Jimena Loveluck: Well, I think as we have seen over the last two years as we have lived through COVID and this global pandemic, we've seen that the inequities that we know existed before COVID have been exacerbated during this time. And I think for us in public health, it has really shed light on not only the importance of a strong public health infrastructure, but really prioritizing and targeting resources to those neighborhoods and areas, to those communities that have been most impacted. And I think that's something that we certainly have done in response to COVID. But an important aspect of what we need to continue to do, as we have learned throughout the pandemic about how to better address health inequities and how important and critical a strong public health infrastructure is to having a robust public health response, recognizing that public health does not work alone. We work in partnership with so many community members and other organizations and institutions. But, really, as one of the forefront, one of the organizations at the forefront of responding to COVID, we know that this has to be a continued focus in terms of targeting those resources and services to people who need them the most.
David Fair: 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United continues with Washtenaw County Health Department Health Officer Jimena Loveluck. And you took over as health officer in Washtenaw County in September of 2019. And about six months later, you find yourself in the midst of a global pandemic that almost entirely shuts down the community. How did your previous experiences in health inform how you managed us through and up to this point in the pandemic?
Jimena Loveluck: I'm so honored to be the health officer in Washtenaw County, but, no doubt, this has been one of the most challenging times in my public health career.
David Fair: Or anybody's. Yeah.
Jimena Loveluck: And I was going to say, "And for all of us." And so, it's been incredibly important for me to help our health department and our public health staff navigate through the pandemic and ensure that we are providing the most accurate up-to-date information to the public, so that we can help them ensure that they are doing all that is necessary to protect themselves and their loved ones. And I think my work in HIV, in many ways, did prepare me. I started working in HIV in the late 80s, and, at that time, we were still learning about HIV. We were still at a time when there was very limited treatment available. And so, in my work in HIV, it was constantly having to adapt to new information, new research, sharing that with the public--
David Fair: Sometimes hour by hour.
Jimena Loveluck: Exactly. And so, that's one thing that I think back on quite a bit, and I've thought about and reflected on as we've responded to COVID. I also think, as I mentioned before with HIV, we know that there is a disproportionate impact in communities of color, and we saw that also in COVID. And it was really important for us as a health department for us, as public health leaders, to share that information, so that we could respond and adapt our response to ensure that we were providing services and information and working with trusted messengers to really reach those communities as well.
David Fair: We're talking with Jimena Loveluck on 89 one WEMU's Washtenaw United. She leads the Washtenaw County Health Department and is the United Way of Washtenaw County Woman of the Year. As you've been pointing out, we know health outcomes for those living in or near poverty and for people of color tend to be worse because of accessibility and affordability. We probably don't include enough in that conversation--health outcomes in terms of gender. History has shown a preference for addressing health in terms of prioritizing men. As a woman working your way through a public health career, has your gender subjected you to some of the systemic and personal biases that have plagued women through American history?
Jimena Loveluck: Yeah, I think it's, you know, this being Women's History Month, the theme is providing healing and promoting hope. I think that's a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic, and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided healing and hope throughout history. And as I think back on my childhood, I was raised by a single mother. I lived through financial instability, but also my mother was an incredible role model for me and one who really helped me develop my commitment to social justice and my desire to give back to my community and really serve my community. And so, I think that it's been incredibly important to look back for me on that on my own personal history as I have become a leader in our community. And we know that, you know, women have been so challenged during COVID, particularly because, you know, their share of caregiving was magnified with increased school and childcare disruptions. We know that women continue to have incredible challenges in accessing health care services. And so, we want to ensure, again, as a local health department, that our services, which are very focused in many cases on women and women and children. We want to ensure that they are accessible and equitable and that we really lift up the health of all women in our community.
David Fair: When you do eventually decide to call it a career, how would you like the history of Jimena Loveluck to be written?
Jimena Loveluck: Oh my goodness. What a question! That I really look forward to being able to work on other public health initiatives that are beyond COVID. And so, when I became health officer, I had lots of goals and ideas that I wanted to work on. So I look forward to getting back to those. But more than anything, I think I would like to be remembered as a committed leader who really helped move the needle in our county on health equity and who led with principle and honesty and transparency.
David Fair: I thank you so much for the time today, Jimena. I appreciate the conversation. And again, congratulations on being well-acknowledged by the United Way of Washtenaw County.
Jimena Loveluck: Thank you so much, David. It's incredible honor, and I share it with all our other public health leaders in Michigan and, of course, our wonderful health department staff.
David Fair: Jimena Loveluck is health officer at the Washtenaw County Health Department and is the United Way of Washtenaw County's Woman of the Year. Jimena will be formally awarded at the United Way's annual Power of the Purse event this Wednesday, March 9th. I'm David Fair, and Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you do hear it every Monday here on your community NPR Station, eighty nine one WEMU FM and HD one Ypsilanti.
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