The Center for Health Care Management and Policy (CHCMP) shines a spotlight on heath equity in the wake of the pandemic. 

Toward a New Paradigm: Four Key Takeaways from “Making Health Equity a Strategic Priority”

June 02, 2021 • By Ashley Rabinovitch

On May 3, the Center for Health Care Management and Policy (CHCMP) at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business invited several prominent experts in the public health arena to reflect on the fight for health equity in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moderated by Dr. Romilla Batra, Chief Medical Officer, SCAN Health Plan and Merage School lecturer, “Making Health Equity a Strategic Priority” highlighted the urgent need to address the health inequities laid bare by the pandemic and build a roadmap for a more just future.

Here are four takeaways from the event:

 1. Equity and equality are two different things.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “health equity is achieved when every person has the opportunity to attain their full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” Unlike health equality, which aims to give every person the same support, health equity focuses on giving each person the support they need.

Dr. Bernadette Boden-Albala, director and founding dean of the program in public health in the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences at UCI, describes the social determinants that shape the health of populations and communities. Ultimately, inequities in determinants like housing affordability, education, health care provision, work and economic stability, transportation and support systems drive inequity in health outcomes.  

 2. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed inequities that already existed.

According to data presented by Batra, the average Hispanic or Black person in the U.S. lost two to three years of life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, these data points square with a mountain of research conducted in recent years.

For example, someone living in the Inglewood area of Chicago, where more than 90% of the residents are Black, has an average life expectancy of 60 years. Only nine miles to the north, in an area where 75% of the population is white, the life expectancy jumps to 90 years. In a separate data point, Black women in the first community face a maternal mortality rate that is twice the number of non-Black women in the second, as well as a higher risk of stroke incidence and cancer mortality.

“COVID-19 is this unveiling of disparities and really an unveiling of a system that’s broken,” says Boden-Albala.

3. Just start somewhere.

Identifying the deep-rooted causes of inequity, from low-quality education to wealth distribution, presents a daunting challenge. Where most public health experts should invest their time, says Boden-Albala, is working with existing healthcare structures to make modest interventions based on documented best practices.

Batra has helped develop an ambitious plan at SCAN Health Plan to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) through initiatives like an unconscious bias training program, thought leadership series and expanded cultural and linguistic capabilities, but she and her colleagues are also committed to making more short-term interventions. In an effort to address the lower rates of medication adherence among Black and Latinx members, they are targeting these communities to overcome linguistic, cultural, transportation and other barriers that arise.

 4. Community partnerships are key to improving health outcomes.

Dr. Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, has witnessed the inefficiencies that are perpetuated when public and private stakeholders work in silos without communicating. In Chau’s experience, they often develop overlapping programs that confuse the public with multiple messages.

In spearheading his agency’s pandemic response, Chau has relied on partnerships with community organizations and churches to reach underserved populations. By creating relationships with Catholic dioceses and predominately Black churches, for example, he has succeeded in bringing mobile units into these communities to administer vaccines.

“In order for us to build a public health infrastructure that speaks to social justice, we have to promote an environment of growth,” said Chau. “We need a health care system that is accountable to the needs of the community.” 

 You can watch “Making Health Equity a Strategic Priority” here.