The Struggle: What does advancing health equity look like?

healthequityblogpostThe principle of health equity—belief that every person, regardless of who they are (skin color, education level, sexual/gender identity, etc.), has an equal opportunity to achieve optimal health and safety—is inherent to NNPHI and our members. With population health at our core, there is no denying that we must work towards health equity in order to reach true population health. But how do actually advance health equity? What does that look like operationally?

Although public health practitioners are rallying around the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s concept of creating a culture of health, many still struggle with how to execute this goal.

These challenges include:

  • Lack of broad understanding of the structural drivers or social determinants of health among public health practitioners.
  • Lack of health equity tools and trainings widely available.
  • The political sensitivity around the term, “equity.” Let’s face it, the equity discussion gets at a deeper issue, systemic racism. So getting folks to rally around equity can be difficult.

Building Our Network’s Capacity

Funded through a cooperative agreement with the HHS Office of Minority Health, NNPHI implemented a five-year project (2010-2015) in partnership with the Prevention Institute (PI). NNPHI and PI held a series of Tool for Health and Resilience in Vulnerable Environments (THRIVE) training of trainers for a total of 12 public health institutes, and provided them a mini-grant and technical assistance to implement THRIVE in their respective communities. This initiative built our network’s “distributed” capacity to achieve health equity.

NNPHI Members in Action

Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI) focused its THRIVE trainings on building organizational capacity to address health inequities. Their training has expanded the integration of the social determinants of health concepts into daily practice and enhanced the capacity of the communities LPHI serves to develop institutional and place-based solutions that address the structural drivers of health.

Learn more about LPHI’s implementation of THRIVE.

The Public Health Institute (PHI) focused on a THRIVE training implemented in partnership with the United Way of Merced to empower youth in improving community safety in the San Joaquin Valley. The training fostered an expanding circle of dialogue and action with broad reaching outcomes including policy changes at the state level and a pedestrian improvement plan.

Learn more about PHI’s implementation of THRIVE.

What We’ve Learned

As NNPHI navigates the tricky waters of advancing health equity, we’ve learned a few things worth sharing. Here are the 3 key takeaways:

  1. Partner. Partner. Partner. Whether it be with a community-based organization, a national organization or another arm of your own organization (e.g., healthy communities team collaborates with the tobacco-cessation team). You will need diverse perspectives and combined resources.
  2. Use local context, VISUALLY. When training other practitioners or planning your own program, try a photovoice-like activity to kick off the work. Equity is complex and often difficult to understand. This approach allows you to address the structural drivers of health in a digestible manner.
  3. Don’t look too far for health equity advancement opportunities. Start at home and build your organization’s capacity to achieve health equity.

Want to learn more about how NNPHI member institutes advance health equity in their state? Check out these case examples highlighting LPHI and PHI’s efforts:

THRIVE Empowers Youth to Improve Community Safety: A California Case Example

THRIVE Fosters a Shared Understanding of the Social Determinants of Health: A Louisiana Case Example

NNPHI is always interested in hearing about others examples to advance health equity. Please share your work in the comments.

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