DISPARITY & EQUITY DEFINED
Healthy People 2020, a framework of national public health goals from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, defines ‘health disparity’ as a “particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage,” while ‘health equity’ is the “attainment of the highest level of health for all people.”
Evolving understanding of the social determinants of health confirms that where people live, work, learn and play has an outsized impact on health compared to factors like genetics, individual behaviors and even access to healthcare. The bottom line is that place matters: in the United States, zip codes determine how long you live.
THE ROLE OF RACISM
Because many of today’s health disparities are rooted in historical patterns of discrimination and exclusion—primarily targeting the Black community, and also impacting other ethnic minorities—making any meaningful progress toward advancing health equity must begin by acknowledging and understanding the role of discrimination and structural racism.
THE HEALTH CONNECTION
- In addition to systemic patterns of discrimination, individual experiences of racism are connected to a range of poor health outcomes—mostly due to chronic stress—and make it such that education and income can’t be counted on as protective factors.
- Maternal and infant mortality, depression, asthma, diabetes and obesity are among the conditions that disproportionately impact racial and ethnic minorities compared to their white counterparts. Data also shows Black patients die at higher rates from conditions like stroke and cancers compared with non-Hispanic, white patients. COVID19 has been no exception to this trend.
- Though there have been improvements over the past 60 years, disparities persist for a range of health indicators across races and ethnicities in the United States, from higher rates of chronic disease to premature death.
Core to the Health Foundation’s mission is being a catalyst for policy and systems change that improves health, because we recognize it is policies, systems and practices that are largely responsible for ongoing racial health disparities. This year, the Foundation made various initial commitments with respect to how we operate internally and what we expect from our partners.
We convened a Racial Justice and Equity Committee whose purpose is to provide guidance, input, accountability and recommendations to our Board of Directors on how to operationalize racial equity and inclusion, internally and externally. Some initial actions include:
- Setting new diversity and equity indicators and accountability mechanisms to help us ensure we are being inclusive in our hiring processes, vendor procurement and throughout our operations and grantmaking.
- Challenging our grantees and partners to assess their own hiring and board appointment policies to ensure they are conducive to diversity and inclusion.
- Providing our board and staff with education that advances the understanding of racial equity and structural racism and the role they play in creating healthier, inclusive communities. We we will host similar training sessions for our grantees and partners.
- Engaging more deeply with Black-led community organizations and grassroots leaders who can participate in the planning and implementation of our programs and initiatives.
- Giving increased consideration to grantee applicants whose project development includes having meaningfully engaged with the community they seek to serve.
These are just first steps. As an organization, there is much more we will be doing. Above all, most of us know that we may never fully understand what it’s like to experience the racism, injustice and inequity ailing our nation and our communities, but we are committed to taking on the struggle as our own.
For more information on our work in Racial & Health Equity, please contact Program Officer Debra Annane.