Giving help to those in need is important to Max Michael, M.D., and it has been the focus of his career since he was an intern at the old Freedom House on Southside in 1972.
The Freedom House — a free clinic that treated patients for issues ranging from medical needs to crisis concerns — was a central hub of activity in the early 1970s. It was where many UAB interns, residents and students worked to provide care for those less fortunate. Those days laid a foundation for Michael that ultimately propelled him to be a leader in community service in Birmingham.
|Max Michael’s peers have recognized his years of service by nominating and selecting him as the recipient of the 2010 Odessa Woolfolk Community Service Award.
Whether it’s been in his current position as dean of the UAB School of Public Health, or other positions that have included CEO and medical director of the Jefferson Health System at Cooper Green Hospital, medical advisor for the Alabama Association of Community Health Councils or as a director for the Central Alabama Coalition for the Medically Uninsured, Michael has been fervent in his efforts to help the under-served.
Michael’s peers have recognized those years of service by nominating and selecting him as the recipient of the 2010 Odessa Woolfolk Community Service Award. This award, along with the President’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching, will be presented at the Faculty Awards Convocation Tuesday, March 9 at 3 p.m. in the Alys Stephens Center Sirote Theatre.
“I’m really, really humbled and flattered by this honor,” Michael says. “There are many other people at UAB that are more deserving and do a lot of things. If this says anything to me, it highlights the importance of the community we live in, the importance of giving back and being a part of that community and the role that UAB plays in the broader metropolitan area.”
Michael, who has been dean of the School of Public Health since 2001, is an avid believer that UAB has a responsibility to work with local organizations and agencies and share the knowledge a research university of this stature has at its disposal. But he also believes UAB has a responsibility to learn from these community partnerships — to touch base with members of the community and ask what resonates in their world.
“It’s critically important to understand the things that are important to the community,” Michael says. “It’s one thing to sit in here and have an idea. It’s another thing to sit down and work with community groups and organizations to share ideas and blend them in such a way that works for everybody.”
Michael has worked closely with the Congregations of Public Health, Glenwood, Planned Parenthood, Alabama Department of Public Health, Public Health Student Association and many other groups and their leaders for years.
The Rev. Donald Solomon founded the Congregations for Public Health (CPH) along with Michael in 2002 after a group of African-American pastors met with Michael to discuss health, social and educational needs of their neighborhoods. Solomon and other leaders told Michael their needs were too large and outside the scope of what the churches could address without additional technical and developmental support.
They developed the CPH based on geographic boundaries, using a one-mile radius with each CPH church as the central point. Solomon says these communities make up one quarter of the state’s African-American population.
“Each day I see the fruits of Max’s labor,” says Solomon, president of the CPH board of directors. “In Birmingham — within the shadow of UAB — the majority of the families in these CPH neighborhoods live in poverty. Thus the significance of being able to collaborate is of great value to the community. Through this partnership, we are engaging the assets of the community and UAB to plan around a shared vision and bring together current and future resources that will positively impact the well-being of our community.”
Lee Yount, president and CEO of Glenwood, says Michael’s knowledge in many areas of health care has been a tremendous asset to his organization. She says Michael freely gives his time and resources and constantly challenges the group to improve. Yount says the development of the Glenwood Lectureship at UAB, which Michael was instrumental in developing, has provided critical information on best practices in the field of autism and mental health to hundreds of participants each year.
“Dr. Michael is a tremendous asset to the Birmingham Community and stands out as a leader, collaborator and educator,” Yount says. “He has a commitment for community service and a desire to improve the lives of the individuals that make up our community. I have never met another individual that gives so generously of his time, his talent and his resources.”
Barbara Buchanan, CEO of Planned Parenthood, says Michael sets the tone of the importance of community service throughout the School of Public Health, too. She knows that firsthand as a former student of Michael’s.
“As an instructor, Dr. Michael was an inspiring, stimulating leader,” Buchanan says. “As dean, Dr. Michael leads by example. He provides our community with leaders well prepared to tackle tough problems to increase the health and well-being of all populations. His students are prepared to reduce health disparities, to think critically and craft innovative solutions to difficult public health problems.”
Michael says he likes to be involved in public health issues and working to improve the community because “it’s the right thing to do.”
He says he has been fortunate and lucky throughout a career that has placed him in a position to give back to people who don’t find themselves in situations that are as comfortable has his own. Michael says growing up in the ‘60s during the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements showed him the inequities that many face and taught him the importance of building a community.
“That was a time when you grew up in and learned about a sense of community,” Michael says. “We all live in this world, city or community together, and we all have a responsibility to make sure that everybody that is in the community is reasonably comfortable. The challenge is that it’s real easy to sit in here and do pie-in-the-sky stuff and write an article about it and stick it on a shelf. It’s another thing to say, ‘That was a cool idea, but it doesn’t work in the real world.’ That’s the fun part of it — to see what works and what doesn’t.”