Dr. Fredrick Echols

St. Louis Dir. of Health Dr. Fredrick Echols walks with a staffer carring COVID-19 test from homeless residents living in Poelker Park across from Cityy Hall Thu. Apr. 30, 2020. 

The City of St. Louis Department of Health is looking for a few good pastors – a few more good pastors – to advise it.

“Because not all faith leaders share the same mutual interest in specific health issues, it’s important that the board have a geographically, racially, gender, and ethnically diverse makeup,” Dr. Fredrick Echols, director of health for the City of St. Louis, stated in a release.

Religious leaders interested in serving on the City of St. Louis Clergy Advisory Board can email their statement of interest to the Department of Health at health@stlouis-mo.gov.

According to Echols, the health equity principle of Optimum Health For All is the pillar the new advisory board will build its internal infrastructure on. 

Though race-based disparities have been evident in data for as long as such data has been reported, with “For the Sake of All” (2013) being the landmark study, these disparities were made painfully evident as data from the COVID-19 pandemic began to be reported. 

As of May 20, 68 of the 109 victims of the pandemic and 1,091 of the 1,717 cases in the city were black. That means 62.3% of the victims and 63.5% of the cases were black people, though blacks make up 45.95% of the city’s population.

The board was announced on May 11 with a clerical membership that includes Dr. Kanika Turner, Bishop Lawrence M. Wooten, Bishop Nelson Watts Jr., Rev. Cornelius Moore, Rev. Anthony Witherspoon, Rev. Richard McDuffie, Rev. Dr. Julius Sims, Rev. B. T. Rice, Evangelist Pam Rice, and Rev. Roderick Burton. 

Additional community leaders on the board are Lisa Potts, with the St. Louis Mental Health Board; Rose Jackson of the Behavioral Health Network; and Bonnie Reece, executive director of Hope House STL (formerly St. Louis Transitional Hope House).

Echols said the board has begun internal discussions on priorities, mission, goals, and identifying the unique capabilities faith communities can contribute to efforts to address health inequities and achieve healthier outcomes for the St. Louis region.  

St. Louis is a very diverse city, so the advisory board is also examining gaps that might need to be addressed in its makeup, hence the open call for more members. 

Echols said that working collaborations with nontraditional partners is not new for public health agencies. Health departments working with faith-based organizations is a proven best practice in reaching at risk, minority, and other vulnerable populations. 

“In order to find and implement long term solutions to the numerous social determinants of health in St. Louis,” Echols stated, “religious leaders must be included in the dialogue and engaged in the work of creating communities that support optimal health for all.”  

The board evolved from Echols reaching out to several influential clergy leaders in St. Louis to present an informational briefing on the virus’ impact on the community and to identify available resources that could benefit the St. Louis faith community. 

“To improve health outcomes in the city we must move away from offering health improvement solutions (developed in silos) to the community and move towards working with the community to develop effective solutions,” Echols stated. “The faith community can be instrumental in helping us make that transition.” 

A consensus was reached for a Clergy Advisory Board to meet with Echols twice per month about the virus, with the goal of discussing public safety protocols, access to resources, and presenting feedback to the Department of Health from the various church congregations.

“We are blessed to have Dr. Echols helping to direct our efforts at informing our congregations about safety precautions, testing, and where to go for resources and medical help,” stated Bishop Lawrence M. Wooten, pastor at Williams Temple Church of God in Christ and president of the Ecumenical Leadership Council—St. Louis Chapter. “We look forward to working with him in the future on other public health issues.” 

For more information about the City of St. Louis Department of Health Clergy Advisory Board, email health@stlouis-mo.gov or call 314-657-1568.

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