104: Advancing Health Equity

Paula Tran, Wisconsin’s State Health Officer, says it’s possible to maintain health equity priorities even as the pandemic continues to strain resources. Health equity is among the issues considered in a set of 10 ASTHO policy briefings focused on...

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Paula Tran, Wisconsin’s State Health Officer, says it’s possible to maintain health equity priorities even as the pandemic continues to strain resources. Health equity is among the issues considered in a set of 10 ASTHO policy briefings focused on public health issues expected to be priorities this year; ASTHO has a new blog article about health equity and rural health; Dr. Anne Zink, ASTHO’s President-Elect, reflects on her hopes for the new year; and a webinar hosted by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security this afternoon will address the latest with the Omicron variant and planning considerations for the next phase of the pandemic.

ASTHO Health Policy Prospectus: Advancing Health Equity

ASTHO Blog Article: ASTHO Policy Watch – Health Equity and Rural Health

Center for Homeland Defense and Security webpage: Stunting the Surge – What Leaders Need to Know for 2022 Pandemic Planning

ASTHO logo


This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, January 25th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson. 
Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. 

Health equity is at the top of the agenda for most public health jurisdictions this year. It's also on ASTHO's list of the top 10 policy issues to watch in 2022.
In today's morning conversation, Wisconsin state health officer Paula Tran says it's possible to maintain health equity priorities even as the pandemic continues to strain resources.
Health equity is a household term because of the pandemic, but what do we need to do as public health this year to make sure there is progress on this front? 
We have a lot of opportunities. 
I think the most obvious space that we are looking at is how we continue to navigate the COVID-19 response, and also our recovery planning—that we have opportunities to embed equity today in our response as we make decisions and roll out services and set priorities for how we reduce disease burden and death related to COVID-19.
And also, have an opportunity—with all of the resources that have been made available—to really embed equity in our COVID recovery planning, which includes, you know, how we pivot from sort of the immediate response today and begin building a more sustained response over time as COVID-19 becomes a continued part of our public health work. 
And then, also to consider all of the other good work that happens in public health, and our opportunities to really think about centering equity in recovery as we think about the services that may have been delayed during the pandemic.
Well, it's going to be another busy year, probably, because of the pandemic. 
So, how do you do that? How do you continue that focus here in 2022? 
Yeah, I think there's a lot of different ways.
 I think health departments and policymakers and community-based organizations can consider how they make declarations that have actions attached. So, setting health equity as a priority that has key actions is a key opportunity to amplify and shine a light on what we've seen exacerbated during the pandemic and to also hold ourselves and each other accountable to saying the words out loud with some key actions connected.
And the actions can range from enhancing the data that we collect, hiring additional staff with some of the resources that we are bringing in to really focus on health equity strategies, and that includes engaging those most impacted by inequity—so community partners, other advocacy organizations—and really build alliances to really have work that happens not just in health, but across the many sectors that influence health such as housing, economic development, workforce challenges.
So, I think there's a lot of opportunity for us to enhance not just what we do within public health by creating a central focus and enhancing our data, but also building partnerships with other key leaders and stakeholders and individuals most impacted by inequities to continue to focus on inequities in broad ways. 
Speaking of opportunity, what do you think will be the biggest opportunity to advance the case for health equity this year? 
I think the pandemic has showed us over and over again that we all do better when we each do better. So, I think we hopefully can continue to make the case that we can't leave anyone or any community members behind. And when we make a sort of choices based on targeted universalism, based on what people need, what communities need, and what they're telling us they need, we can really create outcomes and structures that support us all and improve overall our abilities to be well and healthy. 
So, I think our opportunities are to be attentive to what we've learned during the pandemic, and pay attention to opportunities to invest resources in a more targeted way where there are needs and assets, and really think about building infrastructure so that those shifts can be sustained over time. 
If you want to hear what Louisiana state health officer Dr. Joseph Kanter says about ending the HIV epidemic, check out Monday's newscast.
Over the next several days, we'll examine all 10 ASTHO policy priorities and include the related policy papers in the show notes. 

We just heard Wisconsin state health officer Paula Tran share her thoughts about advancing health equity this year. ASTHO also has a blog article on the topic. It considers health equity and related concerns about the state of healthcare in rural America. 
Read the article using the link in the show notes. 

Everyone involved in the COVID response is thinking about what's next, no doubt hoping the pandemic will subside this year. ASTHO's president elect, Dr. Anne Zink of Alaska, is among them. 
I'm hoping that we can really take the lessons learned from this pandemic. You know, I worry we're actually less prepared for another pandemic now as a country than we were even at the beginning of this. I wish I was not saying that. I wish I would have said the opposite—that we have taken lessons and we were more prepared—but I think we need to step back from COVID, and I think we need to think about what makes us healthy and well. 
We need to invest in public health. We need to invest in our IT digital health infrastructure, and we need to invest in those basic preventative measures that make us healthy and well. And so, I'm really hoping that we can take the lessons learned and the energy from COVID and pivoting that to these critical systems that need to be addressed and the critical work of prevention. 

Finally this morning, the center for Homeland Defense and Security is talking about the near future this afternoon in a webinar scheduled to start at 2:00 PM Eastern time. 
Senior officials from the Biden administration, including Admiral Rachel Levine, U.S. assistant secretary for health and an ASTHO alum, will discuss the Omicon variant and planning considerations for the next phase of the pandemic. The event is moderated by Jim Blumenstock, former ASTHO senior vice president of pandemic response and recovery. 
You can find a registration link in the show notes. 

That'll do it for today's report. 

Be sure to join us again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information. 
I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day. 

Paula Tran MPH

State Health Officer and Division of Public Health Administrator, Wisconsin Department of Health Services

Anne Zink MD FACEP

Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska