Preventing disease and promoting wellness

U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin said on Wednesday at Northeastern that health-care reform hinges on preventing disease and promoting wellness.

“We have to make prevention part of everyday life,” she explained, noting that heart attacks result in some 800,000 deaths each year. “We need to stop disease before it ever starts.”

Benjamin received a standing ovation prior to addressing approximately 100 health-care stakeholders who filled the Curry Student Center Ballroom on Wednesday morning for a meeting with America’s doctor.

The event — which was organized by the Executive Office of Health and Human Services of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — focused on examining the National Prevention Strategy, a cross-sector plan designed by the National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council to increase the number of healthy Americans.

The strategy calls for empowering people, eliminating health disparities and building safe and healthy community environments.

“Health reform does not take place in a doctor’s office,” said Benjamin, who chairs the public health council. “It occurs where we live, work, play and pray.”

The event dovetailed with Northeastern’s focus on use-inspired research that solves global challenges in health, security and sustainability. Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, touted Northeastern’s commitment to urban engagement and community health outreach.

Health sciences students, she said, have partnered with lawyers, engineers and business leaders through co-op and other experiential-learning opportunities as part of the college’s goal of “grounding students in the real world of professional practice.”

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — who was introduced as a “true champion of health and wellness” — called health a “public good.”

“We all have a stake in each other’s access to affordable care,” Patrick said. “Prevention,” he added, “is a key feature in containing health-care costs.”

Patrick praised the state’s health-care insurance reform law, which was enacted in 2006 and now covers 98 percent of its residents, including 99.8 percent of children.

Massachusetts patients, he said, “no longer fear that a serious illness will leave them bankrupt.”

Sandra Henriquez, the assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, highlighted the importance of living in a safe and economically stable neighborhood with good schools, job opportunities and access to healthy and affordable food.

“Life expectancy, education attainment and income levels are based on your zip code,” she explained. “This needs to end.”