The community health field has been evolving constantly after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). As a result of this act, beginning in October 2013, families who have gone without health insurance for so long will have access to insurance. Keeping up with the shifting sands of healthcare policy is a big challenge for public servants in this field, including Maggie Norris (MPA ’10).
Norris is currently Assistant Deputy Director at Westside Family Healthcare—Delaware’s largest nonprofit community health system. In this capacity, she is part of the administrative team focused on planning, coordinating, and implementing public affairs, community-engagement, marketing, and fund-development initiatives.
On a day-to-day basis, Norris implements Westside’s community-engagement plan to reach families living in the neighborhoods it serves—the low-income, underserved communities throughout New Castle and Kent Counties.
Norris elaborates, “I am actively involved in several neighborhood-, county-, and state-based coalitions that provide opportunities to collaborate across sectors with community organizations and government agencies. Collaboration is key to improving the health of communities and creating social change. On a grassroots level, I also coordinate and manage Westside’s outreach activities within New Castle County, including Westside’s community health workers (referred to as ‘Health Ambassadors’).”
The Wilmington Health Ambassador Program is a grassroots, community-education and -outreach program within the City of Wilmington. Health Ambassadors educate and connect city residents with a medical home and other resources within the community helping families live healthy, productive lives.
“Westside is a collaborative partner in the Wilmington Health Ambassador Program and currently has two Health Ambassadors working in the West Side and Northeast neighborhoods,” Norris says. “Within my role, I have a great opportunity to work closely with Westside’s Health Ambassadors to develop programs and events that connect directly with families living in the community. It’s really a fantastic opportunity to be involved in this new health initiative that is much needed in neighborhoods across the city.”
At Westside, Norris also plies her talent for public relations. On the marketing and communications side, she co-manages Westside’s public relations, print marketing, and social media strategies, which includes the planning, purchasing, and design/copy-writing Westside’s marketing campaigns.
“I combine my experience working in the community with an eye for graphic design to develop Westside’s community and patient-education print pieces,” Norris explains. “Each year, I co-write and design Westside’s annual community-impact report. For this piece in particular, patient stories provide the most impact. I talk and meet with patients to learn about their stories, challenges, and how Westside made a difference in their lives. I help to share their story.”
And what motivates Norris—making a difference in people’s lives—provides both challenge and reward.
“My work involves many moving parts, and, with that, each project brings on a new challenge. Every day is different,” Norris says. “Most of all, what really excites me is that I followed my passion to make a difference in underserved communities.”
After graduating from the MPA program in 2010, Norris held two positions prior to working at Westside. She worked in Salzburg, Austria, on a three-month internship at the Salzburg Global Seminar—an American-Austrian policy think tank. Within this role, she assisted with the implementation of a seminar series on topics focused on women’s role in economic growth and global educational/social mobility gaps.
Norris talks about this experience. “This fellowship provided me with a unique opportunity to interact with global leaders within their specific fields of study. I was exposed to a variety of global perspectives around social issues and policies and developed a better understanding of barriers to social change.”
After completing her internship in Austria, Norris worked as an intern at a public advocacy firm in Philadelphia while looking for full-time employment. Within this role, she worked closely with clients to coordinate media-relations activities including press-release writing and media-event planning. This provided Norris with the additional skill set she brought to Westside.
Looking back on her graduate work, Norris cites two specific classes that made an immediate impact on her career path. Norris explains, “The health-policy class taught by Eric Jacobson and population-health classes (taken through the partnership with Jefferson University) provided me with solid theory and framework for healthcare policy and the barriers to care that I deal with on a daily basis.” She continues, “I was fortunate to be in a learning environment when the healthcare debate was happening in 2009-2010. I still remember the excitement [Jacobson] instilled in our health-policy class about the health reform and being able to witness health policy in action.”
“Furthermore,” Norris says, “IPA staff and professors really care about the students. There were always several professors and staff who were interested in helping me connect and network with policy and nonprofit leaders in the state and region. Even three years later, the support system is still there. This is very unique.”
When asked what was the most important thing she learned while working for IPA that has helped her the most, without hesitation Norris replies, “Collaboration.”
“Collaboration is the most effective way to make sustainable impact. During my time in IPA, I was exposed to many policy and community-based projects that were being designed and implemented by IPA professors and staff. What I learned is that program planning and policy development are just part of the equation for social change. It takes working closely with stakeholders and community leaders to develop an effective program and policy.”
Now just a few years into her career, Norris already is thinking about her future. “In the near future,” she says, “I aspire to continue to grow my knowledge base of the community-health field and continue to grow and strengthen my skills in developing effective communications strategies on a community level. In addition, I am currently working toward a Graphic Design Certificate through the Delaware College of Art & Design. I am applying the skills and software I am learning to my work at Westside Family Healthcare.”In her spare time, Norris enjoys traveling in car and by plane, hiking, practicing yoga, and catching up on her favorite television shows. On most weekends, she spends time with friends and family—either visiting them in Northeast region or staying local. She currently lives in Trolley Square, Wilmington. Norris’s favorite quote is from Margaret Mead—“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” It is in this spirit that she is doing all she can to improve the lives of others through the provision of health care.
Photo courtesy of Maggie Norris