4: New SVP of Health Equity

ASTHO announces new senior vice president focused on health equity and diversity initiatives; territorial health official Esther Muña discusses the pending Medicaid funding cliff.

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ASTHO announces new senior vice president focused on health equity and diversity initiatives; territorial health official Esther Muña discusses the pending Medicaid funding cliff.

News Release: ASTHO Welcomes New Senior Vice President of Health Equity and Diversity Initiatives

ASTHO Policy Statement on Structural Racism as a Public Health Issue

Permanent, Sustainable Medicaid Financing for U.S. Territories Policy Statement

Medicaid Financing for the Territories

Strategies for Vaccinating People Who Are Homebased

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, August 13th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson with today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

ASTHO has a new senior vice president of health equity and diversity initiatives. Dr. Kimberlee Wyche-Etheridge assumes her new duties in early October.

ASTHO Deputy CEO, Zarnaaz Bashir, explains the importance of the assignment.


What excites us the most about this position is that Kim brings extensive experience and resources to our organization that we really need to work together and ensure that health equity and anti-racism concepts are incorporated into our everyday thinking and all of the work that we do moving forward.


Dr. Wyche-Etheridge joins us for a morning conversation next week—you won't want to miss it.

The HIMSS 21 conference wraps up today in Las Vegas. Jamie Pina is ASTHO’s vice president of public health data modernization.

Speaking from the conference, Pina says the pandemic exposed the need to exchange data across jurisdictional lines.


There's a lot of regulatory work that needs to happen in order to share information across jurisdictions. All the parties involved have to agree on the allowed use of the data—those agreements are not necessarily developed until there's a need to exchange data.

For example, during a pandemic, neighboring jurisdictions have an impact on the infection rates of each other, so exchanging data between them helps to create a more complete picture of community infection rates.


Public health leaders in the U.S. territories have their eyes on Congress and the calendar—that's because Medicaid funding for the territories expires on September 30th. The hope is Congress will approve a bipartisan plan to avoid a healthcare crisis affecting millions of American citizens.

Esther Muña is the territorial health official for the Northern Mariana Islands in the Philippines Sea. She joins us for a morning conversation.

How important is Medicaid funding to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands?


It is very important. The islands have a low percentage of insured and we have a high incidence of diabetes and hypertension. Preventative care is critical to help this community achieve optimal health.

When Medicaid is unstable, when payer source is unstable, we find our population delaying their care and needing specialized care. With COVID-19 threats, these specialty cares are not available as well as individuals prefer to delay their care further because they would have to leave the islands and go off island.

And this community has been safe. And this is one of the reasons why it will also be affected.


So, given that, how do you feel about the solution being discussed in Congress right now?


We are very grateful that it's getting the attention it needs.

When we first brought this situation to the ASTHO team, the linkage of public health wasn't clear. But when you think of the Americans in the Pacific, you wonder how you can bring public health initiatives when a payer source is not available and accessible.

And that's what Medicaid is, and what Medicaid does. It brings public health initiatives, prevents disease, and allows individuals to access these services and not avoid or delay their care.


What happens then if Washington doesn't pass a new funding deal before next month, before the Medicaid cliff arrives?


I cannot imagine it, but it will be very difficult for the health system to achieve its goals in improving public health for this community.

The health system, with the funding that it received these past few years, has successfully brought specialty services to the territory, bringing families together to access care.

Families will have to be separated to receive these health services off island, and that would be devastating for any individual who is trying to get better, who is trying to receive care and not having their families, especially on an island, on a territory that culturally links family in every improvement of their health.



Finally, there's new guidance for states and territories looking to develop in-home vaccination programs. ASTHO-sponsored specialists have been working all year to make sure people who are home-based have access to COVID-19 vaccines. Their advice is captured in an ASTHO brief available now.

You can find a link to the brief and other resources connected to this report in today's show notes.

Also, don't forget to follow us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or listen on Alexa.

Join us Monday at 7:00 AM Eastern for more ASTHO news and information. Plus, a back-to-school conversation about a new survey, asking parents their opinions of mask wearing and vaccinations for their kids.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition.

Zarnaaz Bashir

Deputy CEO

Jamie Pina PhD MSPH

Vice President, Public Health Data Modernization, ASTHO

Esther Muña PhD MHA FACHE

Chief Executive Officer and Territorial Health Official, Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation, the Healthcare System of the CNMI