Thanks to a push from state Rep. Ed Gainey, D-East Liberty, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the creation of a Public Health Commission on Preventing Violence and Promoting Community Mental Health.

The 24-member panel has been tasked with helping the county building more secure communities by identifying and/or developing effective means to prevent violence, which the county can then employ to reduce the number of injuries and deaths, and to increase the number of people who are receiving appropriate mental health care.

“I appreciate Rep. Gainey’s advocacy to put this Commission together and am grateful for the participation of these members in this process,” said Fitzgerald during the May 9 press announcement. “Community violence is a public health problem. In order for us to have any impact at all on this issue, we need to start approaching it from a public health perspective.”

The panel, comprised of community activists, clergy members, public health officials, police, academics, foundation representatives and political leaders, will present its preliminary recommendations in eight months after which the public will have a month to make comments.

Joining Gainey and co-chairs Dr. Ron Voorhees, acting director of the county health department, and Rev. Earlene Coleman, Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport are: Dr. Karl Williams, county medical examiner; Dr. Loren Roth, and researchers Prof. Ralph Bangs and Richard Garland, University of Pittsburgh; state Rep. Jake Wheatley; state Sen. Wayne Fontana; Common Please Judge Joseph Williams III; Patricia Valentine, county human services department; Mary Ellen Smith Glasgow, Duquesne University; Mark Holtzman, principal McKeesport High School; Dr. Edith Shapira and Kevin Jenkins, Pittsburgh Foundation; Joni Siff Schwager, Staunton Farm Foundation; Marcia Martin, Gateway Health; Beth Monteverde, Residential Care Services; Wilford Payne, Primary Care Health Services; Magdeline Jensen, YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh; Rev. Glenn Grayson, Wesley Center AMEZ Church; Chief Ophelia Coleman, Wilkinsburg Police; Rashad Byrdsong, Community Empowerment Association, and Valerie Dixon, Prevent Another Crime Today.

“I am very excited about the formation of this Commission. I have stated many times to others in my community that we must sit down collectively, with every community represented,” said Pastor Coleman. “This is not a ‘you’ or an ‘I’ problem, it is an ‘our’ problem – and ‘we’ must work together to solve it. McKeesport, just like many other communities, has been touched over and over again by violence and I look forward to working with others to make the changes that I believe can happen when we put our energies and our ideas together.”

The panel’s finalized recommendations will be presented to Fitzgerald one year from now.

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