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Faculty & Staff Honors

Faculty & Staff Honors

Columbia Professor to Lead New Unit of NYC Department of Health and Mental Health

Dr. Ashwin Vasan, Mailman School assistant professor of population and family health, has been appointed executive director of the Health Access Equity Unit, a new program within the Division of Prevention & Primary Care at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Health (NYC DOHMH). This Unit, the first of its kind in the nation, will grow into a full scale Bureau focusing on the creation of effective models of primary health care and public health for the most vulnerable populations in New York City, beginning with the justice-involved living in the community and their families.

[Photo: Dr. Ashwin Vasan]

Dr. Vasan has 15 years of experience working at the intersection of global health and primary health care, with a particular emphasis on health systems and implementation science. He has been affiliated with organizations including Partners In Health in Rwanda, Lesotho, and Boston, and the World Health Organization in Geneva — under current World Bank President Jim Yong Kim — and in Uganda. In his new role, he will leverage his experience in building and evaluating primary health care systems in low- and middle-income countries abroad to efforts to target primary care resources to those most in need in NYC.

The focus of the Health Access Equity Unit will begin with the justice-involved population living in the community, and their families. The main objectives are two-fold: To contribute new strategic information, research, and advocacy to bring to light the health and social welfare issues in a population that is generally hidden from view, but that bears a special burden of diseases including mental health disorders, substance abuse, hepatitis, as well as unique barriers to care and services.

A second objective: To work with implementing partners from health care systems and in the community to develop concrete models of service delivery to target this population, including the potential establishment of “Centers of Excellence” in health care and public health for the justice-involved. Over time, the expectation is that by developing these models generalizable themes can be identified that could be applied to other vulnerable groups (e.g. refugees, specific immigrant populations, etc.).

Dr. Vasan will continue his affiliation with the Mailman School of Public Health, teaching a seminar in Implementation Science and in the MPH Core Curriculum, as well as with Columbia’s College of Physician & Surgeons, where he sees patients and supervises residents as an Assistant Professor of Medicine. “I’m excited to work to advance primary health care for the justice involved in the community and other vulnerable and marginalized groups and will draw on my years of experience working with vulnerable communities abroad. I’m also very grateful to continue my affiliation with Columbia and to explore ways to build robust bridges around my new mandate at NYC DOHMH,” noted Dr. Vasan.