Op-Ed | Building a healthier borough: meeting Bronxites where they are

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Rasheeda Petersen
Photo MetroPlusHealth

Back in 2018, it was simple enough: one MetroPlusHealth representative, a table, and a tent at the busy intersection of East 163rd Street and Southern Boulevard. Through the seasons— from winter’s chill to summer’s heat — he stood as a constant presence, providing guidance to those in need of health insurance in this historically under-resourced neighborhood. This spot quickly became more than just a temporary setup; it was a beacon of support and led to our very first permanent office — a space that met some crucial needs of the community and symbolized our commitment to health access and equity where it mattered most. However, the need to reach even more members across the Bronx remains pressing.

This story of humble beginnings and ambitious goals highlights the resilience of Bronx residents in the face of significant health challenges, including some of the nation’s highest rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, asthma, HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality. With 23% of adults in Bronx County rating their health as fair or poor — 9% higher than the city average — these statistics underscore the deep health inequalities affecting our community. They call for a response to enhance access to essential healthcare for individuals and families. To make this transformative approach happen, some factors to consider include:

Women-led and community-focused

To meet the needs of underserved Bronx residents, MetroPlusHealth, New York City’s five-star health plan with over 700,000 members, is unveiling its second community office in the borough on July 31st. This office will be a key community hub, offering comprehensive support that meets the holistic needs of the neighborhood and continues our tradition of meeting people where they are.

An open door to the neighborhood, the office will provide a range of holistic services and purposeful events. These include health insurance education and enrollment, health screenings, workshops on illness prevention, HIV services and support, homeless and housing resources, and initiatives to address food insecurity.

Our leadership team, made up of diverse women, takes an all-hands approach to ensure the community gets what it needs. We lead a support team that looks and speaks like the people we serve. We have also established fruitful collaborations with government programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and local partners such as Goodwill Jobs Plus, enhancing our ability to serve the community as a united front.

Destigmatize mental health

Mental health remains a critical concern, with the Bronx reporting high rates of psychiatric hospitalizations and significant psychological distress. This issue affects both adults and children, with one in five children reporting mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral problems. Addressing this crisis involves more than offering services; it requires fostering an environment where mental health discussions are destigmatized, and support is readily available. Our community office will provide access to mental health services, addressing stress management and emotional resilience. By creating a welcoming space, we strive to dismantle barriers and encourage open, honest conversations about mental health.

A community-first approach

I grew up in the Soundview section, where my family and I were deeply rooted in the community. Living close to my relatives on Evergreen and Colgate Streets, I experienced the strong sense of togetherness that defines our borough. This upbringing fueled my dedication to improving the health and well-being of my neighbors. I believe care organizations must be entrenched in the community to provide the best possible service to its residents. This means understanding the influential cultural figures and thought leaders who shape individuals’ care practices—the churches, bodegas, barbershops, and block parties—to be the trusted partner that the neighborhood knows to turn to before they need it the most.

This new office is about more than just health services; it’s about showing up, day after day, for those who need us most. It’s about making health and wellness accessible and achievable for everyone. As we continue to grow and serve, we invite all residents to join us in this movement toward a healthier community. Together, we can transform the narrative of health in the Bronx, proving that no obstacle is too large when we tackle it together.

Rasheeda Petersen is associate director of sales for MetroPlusHealth and works toward helping the Bronx community gain access to low-cost, quality health care.