Sana Imam

As a graduate student and public affairs practitioner living in Washington, D.C., I sit at the nexus of policymaking and transformative change. Surrounded by professors with profound legislative expertise and colleagues at Reservoir who are equally passionate about public health, I'm constantly inspired to strengthen my role as an advocate for equity. 

A few weeks ago, I participated in a panel at the American Public Health Association (APHA) 2023 Annual Meeting in Atlanta, attended by 13,000 people over the course of four days. I had the opportunity to discuss my research on the impact of post-incarceration laws on vulnerable communities and the need for policy reform, highlighting barriers to accessing health care services and community assistance programs.  

Too often, the health care needs of formerly incarcerated individuals go overlooked. A survey of recently released individuals from correctional facilities revealed that a majority faced physical health, mental health or substance use issues. Additionally, over 60% of women and nearly 40% of men in this group had multiple health conditions. 

As both a presenter and a participant in the APHA 2023 Annual Meeting, I gleaned several invaluable insights that have deepened my understanding of the intricate connections between research, policy and advocacy. Here are my key takeaways: 


Bridging Public Health Initiatives with Policy Change

A vital learning from the conference is the growing importance of complementing public health actions and initiatives with legislative change. This ensures that community interventions are both effective and supported by robust policy frameworks, leading to sustainable health improvements. 
Our team's expertise lies at the heart of this strategy. We're not just focused on making a difference within a community; we're actively shaping the environment for broader policy change that strengthens equitable public health practices. My own analysis found that federal policy can severely limit the efficacy of community-based assistance programs, despite the wide availability of programs for Black and Hispanic individuals reentering society after being incarcerated. This furthers inequities that reverberate through multiple generations. When decade-long policies trump local solutions, community services that range from addressing food insecurity to providing health care become extremely challenging to access.  


Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Racial Equity 

By bringing together experts from different backgrounds, the conference fostered rich dialogues on ways to dismantle racial inequities in health care. Research sessions not only shed light on the unique challenges faced by marginalized communities during the pandemic but also showcased innovative strategies to promote inclusivity and fairness in the workforce moving forward – a key theme core to Reservoir's values
One focus area of my panel’s Q&A session highlighted practical approaches to implementing DEI initiatives in organizational structures, as well as the importance of affordable higher education to help improve social upward mobility for incarcerated individuals. Given that 25% of formerly incarcerated people don’t have a high school diploma (which is nearly twice as high as the rate for the general public), we discussed the prominent paradigm shift in health care towards holistic treatment approaches, taking into account the conditions in the environments where people are born and live – in other words, understanding the social determinants of health, which the Biden administration and HHS have earmarked as a cornerstone in their public health blueprint. 


Strengthening Community Health Through Relationships 

Partnerships between health departments and community organizations have been instrumental in seamlessly connecting public health practice with academic insights. These collaborations are essential, enhancing the capacity of health departments, educating and training public health professionals, and advancing community-based research. 

Reservoir prioritizes strategic partnerships, complemented by a deep comprehension of the ever-changing health care landscape. By consistently working alongside community leaders, we gain direct visibility into the most urgent health concerns faced by different groups – including racial and ethnic minorities. This collaboration guides us in creating culturally sensitive and impactful messages that effectively engage all communities. 


Advancing health equity and driving meaningful change is no simple task. The challenges are immense, but so are the possibilities. At Reservoir, everything we do is driven by the opportunity to promote health – from providing unique research insights that inform public health strategies to continuously expanding our vast network of health equity experts.    

I remain hopeful, steadfast and determined in my commitment to address ongoing health inequities alongside exceptional colleagues – in D.C. and beyond.