As National Public Health Week concludes today, we will take a look at the importance of considering the social determinants of health. Public health research shows that addressing the social determinants of health can have a major impact on improving population health and decreasing health disparities, which are inequities that occur in the provision of healthcare and access to healthcare across different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Social Determinants of Health are a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Contributing factors that describe social determinants of health include: income and social status; social support networks; education and literacy; social environments; physical environments; health services; personal health practices and coping skills; healthy child development; biology and genetic endowment; culture; gender.
Meigs County Health Department (MCHD) is uniquely positioned to understand the inequities in its jurisdiction and bring people together to shape more equitable communities throughout the County.
Health inequities (or the state where all persons, regardless of race, income, creed, sexual orientation, gender identification, age or gender are able to be as healthy as they can – to reach their full “health potential) result from inequities in the social determinants of health, which in turn result from racial and other forms of oppression and power imbalances. The MCHD faces numerous challenges in tackling these root causes of health inequities, including risk-averse leadership, political pushback, perceptions of the limits of scope of public health practice, and lack of capacity and resources. Advancing equity, therefore, requires “inside” and “outside” strategies. MCHD leadership and staff must first build their understanding of equity, power, and oppression and then act on that understanding. But by itself the MCHD will never have enough power to advance equity, so work outside the department is also necessary. MCHD must build relationships and work closely with community groups and others that can use their democratic rights to advocate for change and hold the agency and others in government accountable to their needs.
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio reports that adults in Appalachian Counties such as Meigs County are more likely to live in poverty; lack a high school diploma, not be working, be enrolled in Medicaid and be uninsured. They are more likely to be smokers, obese, have high blood pressure and diabetes mellitus, and to have ever had a heart attack. These findings, which are consistent with those in the 2015 Meigs County General Health District Community Health Assessment, provide evidence for the MCHD to work with community partners to shape their understanding of health and healthcare needs of different populations. Data will be used to form strategies for reaching those populations in communities and improving their health.
The MCHD believes in:
Racial and social justice: MCHD recognizes that systems and policies must be changed to eliminate racism and other injustices in order to achieve equity.
Community power: MCHD prioritizes the expertise of communities and aims to strengthen the capacity of communities to create their own healthy futures.
Accountability: MCHD strives to build trust with communities, partners and colleagues by owning our biases and respectfully challenging assumptions and stereotypes.
Diversity and inclusion: MCHD believes that every person – no matter their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, language, religion or ability – has the right to access culturally relevant information, resources and services that result in optimal health outcomes.
The MCHD works to
1. Build a shared understanding of and commitment to health equity.
2. Develop organizational knowledge and skills to advance health equity.
3. Align programs and resources with the organization commitment to health equity.
4. Work in true partnership across communities.
5. Improve data collection, analysis and use of data to advance health equity.
6. Work at the policy level to advance health equity.
7. Monitor MCHD efforts to advance health equity and hold itself accountable for making progress.
For more information or to assist the MCHD with its health equity initiatives, contact me at 740-992-6626 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courtney C. Midkiff, BSC, is administrator of the Meigs County Health Department.