Brett Bonfield, Chief Operating Officer of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Brett Bonfield: Promoting wellbeing, holistic health

Brett Bonfield believes in the importance of wellbeing. When he moved to Cincinnati last year to become the Chief Operating Officer of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library, he wanted to get more involved in the community. 

He met the leadership of Health Care Access Now at a Cincinnati Cares Board Connect online event this summer and was “incredibly impressed with the organization’s mission and success.” Bonfield is now a new HCAN board member.

Pathways to robust community health

Bonfield’s work at the library, connecting people to information, contributes to a community’s capacity for good health. “Education, public health, public safety, arts and culture: It all comes down to wellbeing,” he says. “It’s not possible to separate public funding from community health.”

That idea corresponds with the Pathways Community Hub model that HCAN coordinates for the Cincinnati area. The Hub model is predicated on the concept that there are many factors – not only doctor’s visits – that contribute to good health outcomes, and that healthy people make up a healthy community. 

“You need to see whole people in order to promote community health,” Bonfield says. The Hub model uses different “pathways,” including transportation, housing, and education, to identify potential barriers to clients’ good health. Community Health Workers can then connect clients with resources and provide information to dismantle the obstacles.

Bonfield says that the work CHWs do is “incredibly difficult – and they do it really, really well. The Hub model relies on CHWs and their ongoing training and nurturing relationships with clients. [CHWs] are deeply committed to their work, and that enables their clients and the community to thrive.”

Library work and health work

Bonfield grew up in the Philadelphia area; his first job in libraries was in New Jersey: “I was the Library Director of the Collingswood Public Library for about eight years.” He then moved to Princeton, NJ, and was the Executive Director of the Princeton Public Library for three years. 

He’s excited about his work as COO of the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library. “It’s a wonderful resource, and I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of it. We typically trade off [with King County in Washington state] for the second or third highest circulation in the country. The Main Library and the system’s forty branches are all important parts of their communities.” For example, 15 library branches were polling places in the 2020 election. “We’re intimately involved with supporting democracy,” he says.

Bonfield understands that his library work goes beyond “buying, cataloguing, and loaning out books.” He has dedicated a great deal of thought to what libraries can do for their communities. That’s one way in which his professional life dovetails with his work with HCAN. He’s eager to learn from “health administrators and practitioners, who have been thinking for a long time about promoting and engendering wellbeing.”

He says, “HCAN is improving individual and aggregate outcomes, and they’re also changing structures and mindsets. The work they do is both practical and ambitious. I hope that my work as a board member can help to ensure its ongoing viability and sustainability, and assist in helping the organization meet its next series of ambitious goals.”

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