Fitzgerald Announces Formation of 23-Member Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced today that he has formed a Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health, upon the request of State Representative Ed Gainey. The 23-member Commission has a mission of reducing violence and promoting positive mental health and community well-being in Allegheny County.

“Community violence is a public health problem. In order for us to have any impact at all on this issue, we need to start approaching it from a public health perspective,” said Fitzgerald. “I appreciate Rep. Gainey’s advocacy to put this Commission together and am grateful for the participation of these members in this process.”

Dr. Ron Voorhees, Acting Director of the Allegheny County Health Department, and Rev. Earlene Coleman of the Bethlehem Baptist Church of McKeesport, will serve as Co-Chairs of the Commission which held its inaugural meeting today.  The Commission is charged with providing preliminary recommendations within eight months, to allow for public input in the ninth month, and to finalize recommendations and an implementation plan at the end of one year which will be presented to the County Executive.

“I am very excited about the formation of this Commission. I have stated many times to others in my community that we must sit down collectively, with every community represented,” said Pastor Coleman. “This is not a ‘you’ or an ‘I’ problem, it is an ‘our’ problem – and ‘we’ must work together to solve it. McKeesport, just like many other communities, has been touched over and over again by violence and I look forward to working with others to make the changes that I believe can happen when we put our energies and our ideas together.”

The Commission is tasked with identifying and/or developing effective means to prevent violence.  Those strategies may then be used to reduce the number of injuries and deaths due to violence in Allegheny County, and to increase the number of people who are receiving appropriate mental health care.  Through the work of the Commission, there will be an enhanced understanding and awareness of the impact that violence and mental health has on children, families, and communities.  Through identification and development of local approaches and inclusive community actions, the County can assist in building communities that are safe and secure.

In addition to Dr. Voorhees and Rev. Coleman, the Commission members include elected officials, health professionals, community advocates, members of law enforcement and foundation representatives. A full list of the members, along with brief summaries of their backgrounds, follows:

Pastor Earlene Coleman has led the Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport for the past ten years.  As Pastor, Rev. Coleman has initiated several programs geared to fighting community violence.  These programs include the Rally in the Valley, Day of Coming Together, the Noah’s Ark Community Center, Law Enforcement Sundays, Project Reach, among many others.

Dr. Ronald E. Voorhees is the Acting Director of the Allegheny County Health Department. He is board-certified in Public Health and General Preventive Medicine. In his role with the Department, he has worked on a variety of surveillance and public health projects.  As a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, he has been active in building collaborations between the Department and the schools of health sciences.

Dr. Ralph L. Bangs is the Associate Director of the Center on Race & Social Problems in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh and is Co-Director of the Urban & Regional Analysis Program in the University Center for Social & Urban Research. He is considered an expert on race relations, has made presentations on reducing homicides, and served as the lead evaluator for the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime. Dr. Bangs has a doctorate in Public Policy Research and Analysis.

T. Rashad Byrdsong is President and CEO of the Community Empowerment Association, Inc., an agency focused on providing programming that addresses the effects of systemic issues associated with poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, violence, as well as truancy and emotional and behavioral disturbances in youth. Known for his innovation in building coalitions, he works with parents who have lost children to violence and has also offered services to address factors related to violence that reduce and prevent violence.

Chief Ophelia Coleman is the Chief of Police in the Borough of Wilkinsburg, a position she has held since 2006, the first African-American woman to hold that position. During her tenure, the borough has seen a substantial reduction in homicides and other violent crimes. The municipality has also joined collaborations with other law enforcement agencies. She also established the Chaplain’s Program to deal with critical incidents in the community.

Valerie Dixon is Executive Director of the Prevent Another Crime Today (PACT) Initiative and Co-Convener of the Coalition Against Violence’s “Strategies for Change,” a document which includes over 500 strategies to reduce violence. She created a billboard campaign called “Prevent Another Crime Before it Happens” which encourages community members to provide information on violent crimes. It has resulted in 33 arrests, 27 trials and 22 convictions. She serves on numerous boards and authorities.

The Honorable Wayne D. Fontana is a State Senator for the 42nd Legislative District who has championed causes aimed at helping abused and underprivileged children and families, including legislation to create a task force to examine the educational problems facing homeless children. A graduate of the Community College of Allegheny College, he is performed volunteer work for the Children’s Hospital Free Care Fund and is a member of numerous community and civic organizations.

The Honorable Ed Gainey is a State Representative for the 24th Legislative District whose priorities include working-class families, education, community development and enhancement. He has also been responsible for the implementation of the 52 Weeks of Peace Initiative and Be a 6th Grade Mentor Program, among others. He is a board member for Divine Intervention Ministries and PROMISE organizations.

Richard Garland is the current coordinator of the Center for Health Equity’s Violence Prevention Project at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health. The organization is focused on violence prevention efforts nationally and finding best practices of programs dealing with violence.

Dr. Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow is the Dean of Duquesne University’s School of Nursing as well as a professor. She is also a clinical specialist in Adult Health and has served as a visiting professor with the Foundation for International Education in London, England and Dublin, Ireland.

Rev. Glenn Grayson is the Pastor of Wesley Center A.M.E. Zion Church in the Hill District where he has been a resounding voice for non-violence; an effort which was only strengthened after his youngest son became a victim of gun violence in 2010. He has been the leader of The Center That Cares, an outreach program for Hill District families, and has also partnered with anti-violence groups that connect to inner-city youth within the City of Pittsburgh.

Mark P. Holtzman, Jr. is the Principal of the McKeesport Area High School and Technology Center, a public high school which serves over 1,200 students. The City of McKeesport has seen a recent increase in violence and gun violence, and officials have encouraged the public to take a stand against violence by speaking out about what they see in their community. Youth violence, in particular, has been a concern and has been identified as a particular concern to be addressed.

Kevin Jenkins is the Director of Community Initiatives and Senior Program Officer for the Pittsburgh Foundation, an organization focused on community and the positive impact that can be achieve through the engagement of its grantees in critical, regional issues.  He is a member of the board of the Homewood Children’s Center, and has been recognized by the Homeless Children’s Education Fund as a Champion for Children.

Magdeline Jensen is the CEO of YWCA Greater Pittsburgh which works with women and girls who face a variety of needs and issues, including violence and mental health. She also worked in federal probation for 23 years, has served as a member of the West Penn Allegheny Health System Community Health Needs Assessments, and is a current board member of the Program for Offenders.

Marcia A. Martin is the Vice President of Gateway Health, a managed care organization providing healthcare to Medical Assistance and Medicare members.  In her role with the organization, she oversees the development and implementation of programs that address public health issues. She also serves on the boards of numerous agencies, groups and organizations that are improving health conditions for the underserved.

Beth Monteverde is the Executive Director of Residential Care Services, an organization that includes tenresidential programs and a supportive housing program for persons with special needs.  The agency serves over 360 consumers each year and is focused on enhancing the quality of life for persons in mental health recovery by providing individualized community-based support while promoting dignity, health and wellness.

Wilford Payne is the Executive Director of Primary Care Health Services, an organization which serves medically underserved population located in high-need communities with comprehensive health care, including mental health services. He has been recognized for leadership in health care management and exemplary performance in health care and has always stayed true to the organization’s mission to serve as a health care safety net for the underserved and poor.

Dr. Loren H. Roth is the Associate Senior Vice Chancellor for Clinical Policy and Planning, Health Sciences, at the University of Pittsburgh. He also serves as a Professor of Psychiatry for the School of Medicine and Professor of Health Policy & Management at the Graduate School of Public Health. Dr. Roth is a graduate of the Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Yale and Massachusetts General Hospital’s Psychiatric Residency Programs.

Joni Siff Schwager is the Executive Director of the Staunton Farm Foundation which awards grants in the field of behavioral health. Serving in that role since 1998, she has led the Foundation as it focuses on improving access to behavioral health care for underserved populations, decriminalizing mental illness and improving behavioral health care in underserved areas.

Dr. Edith Shapira is a psychiatrist in private practice in Pittsburgh and is the Chair of the Board of Directors of The Pittsburgh Foundation. She is a member of the Allegheny County Board of Health and serves on the Boards of numerous community, environmental and educational organizations.

Patricia L. Valentine is the Deputy Director for Integrated Program Services with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. For 13 years, she was the Deputy Director of Behavioral Health for the Department with a particular interest in promoting meaningful stakeholder participation in the human services system. She holds a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Pittsburgh.

The Honorable Jake Wheatley is a State Representative for the 19th Legislative District.  A former United States Marine who holds a master’s of public administration from the University of Pittsburgh, he is known for providing leadership on covering every Pennsylvanian with quality, affordable and error-free health care. He also serves on a variety of boards including Youth Places, the Hill House Association and Pittsburgh Community Services, Inc.

The Honorable Joseph K. Williams, III is a Judge in the criminal division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, where he has served since 2008, hearing over 4,000 cases.  His prior experience includes working as a psychological consultant where he designed therapeutic treatment and clinical services.

Dr. Karl E. Williams is the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, a position he has held since January of 2007. With 20 years of expertise consulting on forensic cases, he also holds a Masters in Occupational and Environmental Medicine from the University of Pittsburgh. His office has begun work to expand a program aimed at driving home the effects of gun violence to youth in the community.

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