The year 2023 was marked by ambitious goal-setting and service expansions at the Health Department.
Over the past year, the agency launched a citywide campaign to extend lifespans in New York City to an all-time high by 2030 and brought forward a comprehensive mental health agenda. In addition, the agency launched new services and developed its internal data and analytics capacity.
“A new year is about resolutions,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan. “So much of the past 12 months was about articulating resolute and clear goals for the future of health in our great city, and beginning to deliver on those goals, because we know that New Yorkers are healthier when they live in a city that’s healthy. We remain steadfast in our resolve to continue progress in 2024. From bringing forward new mental health services to responding to outbreaks, chronic disease and birth inequities, to addressing the health impacts of extreme weather and a changing climate, we are so proud to lead the march toward a stronger, healthier city for all.”
In 2023, the Department launched two major initiatives focused on life expectancy and mental health.
In November, New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Commissioner Vasan unveiled “HealthyNYC,” an ambitious plan and umbrella initiative to improve and extend the average lifespan of all New Yorkers and promote equity in the process. The campaign set ambitious, measurable targets to reduce the leading causes of overall death, premature death, and widest inequities, including chronic and diet-related diseases, screenable cancers, overdose, suicide, maternal mortality, violence, and COVID-19. The plan also addresses cross cutting issues like access to care, mental health, social needs, and climate change. Overall, the plan aims to extend the average life expectancy of New Yorkers to an all-time high of 83 years by 2030, with gains across racial and ethnic groups. The plan was paired with Introduction 1248-2023, which was introduced simultaneously with HealthyNYC by the Council’s Health Committee Chair, Councilmember Lynn Schulman. The proposal, requires the Health Department to establish a new five-year population health agenda that improves life expectancy in New York City, ensuring that HealthyNYC is a permanent feature in city planning and governance.
This followed the launch of “Care, Community, Action: A Mental Health Plan for New York City,” in March 2023. The sweeping mental health agenda invests in child and family mental health, the overdose crisis, and support for New Yorkers living with serious mental illness. In the following months, the city’s progress on the plan includes:
- Initiated “NYCTeenSpace” — the city’s pioneering no-cost digital mental health service available on mobile devices to all New York City teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 years old.
- Transitioned NYC Well to 988, including the launch of a major public media and messaging campaign, to ensure that these three numbers become the go-to resource for all New Yorkers for mental health concerns, crisis response, and to make New York City an exemplar for the national mental health crisis hotline.
- Launched a solicitation for new funding to expand the clubhouse model of psychosocial rehabilitation to serve more New Yorkers living with serious mental illness with life-saving community supports
- Released a Commissioner’s Advisory asking all New Yorkers to carry naloxone and to normalize conversations at home about substance use, combined with expanded naloxone distribution through nightlife partnerships with Small Business Services and the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife.
- Expanded a nonfatal overdose response initiative to Brookdale Hospital Medical Center that supports people who have experienced a nonfatal overdose with a peer Wellness Advocate in the emergency department to provide support, overdose risk reduction education, and naloxone.
- Launched the city’s first public health vending machines which are stocked with naloxone kits and free hygiene and first aid supplies.
- Held a first-ever national Social Media Convening bringing together young people, parents, providers, teachers, and government leaders from around the city and the nation to explore the impacts of social media on youth mental health.
- Introduced new facilitation of two-to-five minutes of mindful breathing practices in schools every day in all New York City public schools from pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
Beyond its work to extend lifespans and promote mental health, the agency also took steps to strengthen itself internally for current and coming public health challenges and emergencies.
The Health Department launched the new Center for Population Health Data Science. The first-in-the-nation public health data hub will develop consistency, compatibility, and interoperability so that myriad types of data, whether from routine clinical care to public health surveillance activities to community programs, can be shared, matched, and used to advance citywide population health goals and to combat the central challenge of declining and inequitable life expectancy in New York City. By bringing together and building tools in modeling, forecasting, analytics and data communications, the Health Department will continue to be the nation’s leader in public health informatics for the 21st century.
The Department launched a “Response Ready” Initiative to ensure lessons from COVID-19 are incorporated to make the Health Department a faster and even more flexible agency for health emergency response.
In 2023, the agency continued to promote reproductive rights in New York City in the post-Dobbs world. As the nation marked one year since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruled to effectively overturn Roe v. Wade and strip Americans of their right to access safe, legal abortions — the city recognized progress on important services and supports for women and people in need of care. For example, the Abortion Access Hub served nearly 2,000 people between November 2022 and June 2023. The Health Department also launched no-cost medication abortion at the city’s sexual health clinics.
To its core disease control functions the agency also declared an end to the mpox outbreak at the start of the year. The declaration followed the successful vaccination of more than 100,000 New Yorkers, and community partnership in education and behavior change, with NYC leading the way for the national response.
The Department also launched a $2 million campaign that urged New Yorkers to get their updated COVID-19 and flu vaccines. The campaign ran on television, radio, digital channels, newspapers, on subway digital liveboards and the Staten Island Ferry.
In response to extreme weather events, including the air quality event due to Canadian Wildfires, the Health Department developed the Outdoor Air Quality Health Recommendations for rapid deployment during extreme air quality fluctuations.
Despite extreme air quality events in 2023, the past year showed sustained improvements in air quality citywide, according to new data. The New York City Community Air Survey (NYCCAS) report summarizes thirteen years of data for the largest ongoing urban air monitoring program of any U.S. city.
The agency also expanded its work to confront racism in medical algorithms. The Doris Duke Foundation granted nearly $3 million to support the examination of race adjustment in clinical algorithms, which are used by healthcare providers to guide decision-making in medical care. The first phase of the effort, which focused on kidney function, lung function, and vaginal births after cesarians, resulted in seven health systems improving racial equity in algorithms. The next phase will expand algorithm focus areas to include hypertension.
In addition, as part of its ongoing work to help New Yorkers prevent and manage chronic disease, the Health Department launched a new campaign that urges New Yorkers to adopt plant-forward diets, full of whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and nuts which are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and don’t come packaged with high amounts of sodium, added sugar, or unhealthy fats. The campaign titled “Eat A Whole Lot More Plants,” highlights how eating a diet with lots of plants is one way to improve health and can help manage and reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.
The Health Department also joined the NYC Department of Design and Construction and Animal Care Centers of NYC to break ground on the new Animal Care Center in the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx. The $92 million project represents the City’s ongoing commitment to furry, four-legged residents – as well as their human families – by maintaining a full-service animal shelter in each borough.
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