Exploring the connectedness of health in our communities and imagining a better future
July 26, 2022 | Issue #26
Meaningful progress toward health equity is only possible when the California communities most affected by inequities have the power to set their own prevention priorities — and public systems are prepared to support those priorities.
That’s why we invest in partnerships between public health agencies and their communities. The COVID-19 pandemic, resulting economic downturn, and renewed urgency around racial justice have driven remarkable transformation in our public health departments
. While they are eager to deepen relationships with their communities and address inequities, some have been stretched beyond their limits. Blue Shield of California Foundation is proud to support them in collaborating with one another and with the populations they — and we — serve.
In this month’s Intersections, we highlight some of our nonprofit partners who help bridge gaps between communities and public systems. Please consider forwarding their stories
to a colleague or friend.
Senior Program Officer
‘Critical conversations’ help advance health equity
When our partners at the Public Health Alliance of Southern California set out to update the Healthy Places Index — the online platform that community advocates, government agencies, hospitals and many others use to make data-driven decisions — they had a series of critical conversations with communities around the state. As a result, the new platform enables users to make more equity-driven decisions as well.
“We know historic racism has influenced policies and how things are structured, and that has an effect today. That’s an important component [of the platform] now,” says Tracy Delaney, founding executive director of the alliance. “You can look at community conditions and find out if this community was previously redlined. So you’re really getting a sense of how racist policies have impacted and continue to impact our health.”
Users who notice an inequity on the map can click to see evidence-based policies that could address it. And, uniquely, Delaney says, the Healthy Places Index “very intentionally has a positive frame. Other indices focus on vulnerability, or ‘disadvantaged’ is a phrase that’s often used. That’s not our framing. Every community has assets.”
In the platform update released this spring, a first-of-its-kind filter (pictured) allows a user to see only those neighborhoods where specific racial and ethnic groups live. This could be especially helpful in designing outreach for a geographically dispersed, but culturally distinct, population.
“It’s a next step,” Delaney says of the changes in version 3.0, “but we also acknowledge that it’s not enough.” Those critical conversations continue, and they will inform the Healthy Places Index as it evolves in the future.
Community sees an active role for government
A recent study by the Othering and Belonging Institute and VietRISE revealed interesting insights about the way some Southern Californians view government’s role in their lives. For instance, researchers found that more than other ethnic groups surveyed, Vietnamese Americans in Orange County envision an active role for the government in securing public well-being, improving people’s material conditions, and addressing inequality. Respondents want to see local government create better chances for economic success and upward mobility, deliver supportive services for those who are struggling, and ensure that basic needs are met.
Bringing racial justice into government decisions
In their work to help Californians recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Abigail Hewins and April Jean of the California COVID Justice initiative at Public Health Advocates have the same goal: to build a stronger future for — and with — historically disinvested communities.
Abigail focuses on ensuring that COVID response and recovery funding reaches those who need it most, specifically community groups led by and serving people of color. One key challenge, she said after a recent hearing in Sacramento County, is helping decision-makers understand racism as a public health issue. “Racism … is intrinsic to every public health crisis we face, from violence, to cold and flu, to nutrition and physical fitness,” she said. “By addressing racism as a root cause, we can solve many problems at the same time.”
As policy director, April also focuses on investments and policies that mitigate the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19. Public Health Advocates plays a unique role, she said, as a conduit between community and government.
“We’re working from community first,” April explained. “Those that are most vulnerable, those that have been historically marginalized and disinvested, aren’t oftentimes considered or their voices oftentimes aren't heard, lifted up to the highest levels of state government. If we’re making decisions on behalf of community, those decisions should include community.”
How to share power: a guide
Power-sharing is one of the most effective tools to advance health equity. Community power-building organizations (CPBOs) work to redistribute and build power, in partnership with public health departments, in order to improve the social, economic, and environmental determinants of health.
“These partnerships have deep potential,” Human Impact Partners writes in the introduction to a new toolkit for health departments and CPBOs, “to shift structures and policies to transform the material conditions in communities most impacted by inequities.”
Some examples of successful collaboration include establishing trusting relationships with potential community partners, and giving them access to the resources they need to contribute — like health data, evidence for their campaigns, and organizational charts. More examples are explained in this new guide, along with activities and step-by-step instructions.
This month at Blue Shield of California Foundation
- More than one fifth of college undergraduates in the U.S. are parents. That’s about 3.7 million students. Join a virtual summit, in progress today, as we uplift and help address the challenges pregnant and parenting students encounter.
- How can we support and strengthen the role of community-based organizations in an equitable recovery from the pandemic? Northern California Grantmakers hosts a webinar on Aug. 4.
- We are thrilled to see Gov. Newsom give Accountable Communities for Health his seal of approval, authorizing $15 million in the state budget for our partner, CACHI, and up to 38 California communities. “Up to 90% of a person’s health can be attributed to social and environmental factors,” CACHI reports. Accountable Communities for Health “help coordinate the community resources necessary to address those complex, nebulous factors, many of which have historically been ignored by the health care system.”