Health Disparities Council Holds June Meeting

The Health Disparities Council met yesterday. Facilitated by EOHHS Secretary JudyAnn Bigby and Co-Chair Representative Byron Rushing, the meeting opened with an update on Senate 810, which is still pending in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The Council has formally endorsed the legislation which makes permanent in statute the EOHHS Office of Health Equity.

The meeting featured an update from the Council’s Report Card Group, who continues to develop the state’s first report card to examine racial and ethnic health disparities. The Council initially worked through overweight and obesity data, looking at the best ways to present trends between 2001-2009. As the Council examined the data, members debated the practice of using the white population as the reference group for comparing health outcomes, even when white outcomes are not best. Secretary Bigby acknowledged that for the majority of indicators, whites usually fare best, although Asians can often have similar or better outcomes as well. The Council discussed other alternatives to present the data including measuring subpopulations against the population as a whole, or against a standardized outcome standard such as a Healthy People 2010 goal. Secretary Bigby reiterated that regardless of the comparison standards, the report card would not overlook the health concerns of sub populations who are performing relatively better such as Whites and Asians, as there are still a number of health indicators (including obesity) where improvement is needed.

The Council also worked through outstanding issues related to social determinants of health disparities that will be included in the report card. The Council discussed the importance of finding additional data sets that illustrate the resources and barriers related to health in communities. For example, the Council wants to demonstrate the availability of full-service food markets in different areas as a possible determinant of overweight and obesity. The members discussed partnering with agencies outside of the Department of Public Health to obtain such data. The Council report group will continue to work through the summer on the report card’s completion.

The meeting ended with presentations regarding workforce diversity and development efforts in the Commonwealth. In prior council meetings, the members discussed the need for additional data on race, ethnicity, language for the state’s health care professionals. EOHHS’s Yashira Peppin updated the council on the Board of Registry in Medicine and other professional licensure group’s data collection efforts to date. She also briefly discussed the state’s current loan repayment efforts and work to support the designation of health professional shortage areas. She noted DPH’s Primary Care Office currently has available $450,000 in funds dedicated to loan repayment programs for medical professionals serving in physician shortage areas, and noted the Commonwealth will also examine opportunities in the federal health reform legislation, to develop the health care workforce and improve access to providers in shortage areas.

The next Health Disparities Council meeting will take place on Monday, September 27, 2010.
-Qiong Lin

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