364: Illinois’ COVID-19 Experience, Khaldun’s Equity Plan for CVS

Dr. Sameer Vorha, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, is taking note of the disparities laid bare by COVID-19 in a new guest column written for the Chicago Sun-Times; Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Vice President and Chief Health Equity...

Dr. Sameer Vorha, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, is taking note of the disparities laid bare by COVID-19 in a new guest column written for the Chicago Sun-Times; Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Vice President and Chief Health Equity Officer for CVS Health, celebrates her first year on the job; and ASTHO has a blog article asking what leaders can do to help develop resilience among the members of their teams.

Chicago Sun-Time News Article: Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic can make Illinois healthier than ever

LinkedIn Blog Article: A Look Back: My First Year as the Inaugural Chief Health Equity Officer at CVS Health

ASTHO Blog Article: Resiliency Within the Workforce

ASTHO Webpage: Be in the Know


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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, February 24, 2023. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.



Well, I think for many it's felt like a lot more than three years.


Dr. Sameer Vorha, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, reflecting on the pandemic in a new column written for the Chicago Sun-Times.


So, Illinois had its three-year anniversary of its first COVID-19 case on January 24. That case happened in Chicago, was the second case in the entire country. And I, along with, you know, our dedicated team at Illinois Department of Public Health, wanted to use that moment three years from that first case to really talk and take a deeper look about the lessons that we've learned--the lessons that we're continuing to learn--from the COVID-19 pandemic, and how we could use those things that make both Illinois and our country healthier moving forward.


Like so many others in public health, Vorha is taking note of the inequities laid bare by COVID-19.


But just that idea that even a disease that, for many reasons, affected everybody in this country. But the way your health was affected really depended often on race, socioeconomic characteristics, geography. And we saw really early on, so powerfully, that individuals in the Latinx community, in the Black African American community, they were infected with the disease more than white Americans. They had worse hospitalizations, they had worse deaths. And it really took an effort unlike we have ever seen to combat that.


Vorha considers the pandemic a call to action.


I think the mission for all of us—and it can't just be public health leaders, it has to be something that society really invests in—is rebuilding the future of public health and not just mobilizing around respiratory diseases that we saw with COVID-19. But in order to decrease those health inequities, we have to think about chronic disease, we got to think about mental health and behavioral disorders—because we saw that those things suffered as well during the pandemic. And we have to make sure that we continue to prioritize public health because understanding that our best work is done behind the scenes.


You can read Dr. Vorha's article about the Illinois pandemic experience using the link in the show notes.


ASTHO alum Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is celebrating her first year on the job as vice president and chief health equity officer at CVS Health.


The thing I'm most proud of is really the way that, over the past year, we've been able to really work across the company to build on a strategy with specific initiatives, outcomes, and goals. And we've also been able to build a team that's really committed to delivering on this work. And not just people who are on the health equity team, are reporting to the chief equity officer, but really across the entire company.


Khaldun went from a key role in Michigan's COVID-19 response to writing a health equity strategy for one of the nation's largest health solutions organizations.


We have over 300,000 colleagues that are really foundational to our ability to advance health equity at the company. And so, we're engaging them by providing training not just so that they understand what health equity is but beyond that, really how and why disparities came to exist; and giving our colleagues the tactical tools and skills so they can address those inequities and disparities in their work.


Khaldun says data is a key piece of the company's health equity approach.


Data is incredibly important. If you don't understand where disparities exist, you won't be able to address them. And so, we're implementing a strategy to really understand our customers, our clients, and our members across demographic areas like race, ethnicity, language, geography, sexual orientation, gender identity--being able to understand how the people who we touch are experiencing health and healthcare where disparities exist, and then doing something about them.


Having served in government, in emergency rooms, and now on the corporate side of healthcare, Khaldun says her colleagues should absolutely consider working with the private sector.


Companies have shared goals of improving and protecting the health of their workforce. Many have community investment interests that align with public health needs. So, I would say definitely reaching out to business leaders in the community and sharing priorities and looking for areas of common interest is really important as a local or state health official.


Dr. Khaldun has written a LinkedIn blog article about her first year at CVS. We have the link for you in the show notes.


Also today, our resilient workforce is critical to organizational success, but what can leaders do to help develop resilience among the members of their teams? ASTHO's Amber Norris Williams answers the question in a new blog article, now online. There's a link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, stay ahead of changes in public health policy when you sign up for ASTHO's Legislative Alert emails. Every alert has information about key policy decisions being made in Washington and state capitols across the U.S. There's a link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back Monday morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great weekend.

Sameer Vohra MD JD MA

Director, Illinois Department of Public Health

Joneigh Khaldun MD MPH

Vice President and Chief Health Equity Officer, CVS Health