A world free of disparities in health and health care, where all people are able to attain the highest level of health, may appear utopic. However, this is the vision of the
Southeastern Health Equity Council
(SHEC) for the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. These states are comprised of a diverse population, with some groups demonstrating an increased risk of adverse health outcomes, and many residing in rural locations that restrict access to care.
To achieve its vision of health equity, the SHEC is collecting and utilizing data to outline the challenges and opportunities facing the region. Data is a powerful tool that can illuminate issues, inform decisions, and portray the impacts of such decisions.
As an intern working with the SHEC, I have had the opportunity to contribute to their latest efforts to improve the health of the population by increasing awareness on state-level policies and practices related to health care access, healthy food choices, and cultural competency. From June through August 2013, I researched data in 12 domains using 19 indicators to help answer questions about the physical environment, food choices, health behaviors, diversity in the health care workforce, and health care coverage affect an individuals’ lifespan, with the intent to generate a regional health equity report card.
This report card, which will be available this fall, will present detailed data by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, urban/rural location, and disability, which will be used by the SHEC for the first time to inform local policy makers. It will allow a look at several domains across multiple demographic measures at the same time, to generate a much needed holistic response to resolving health disparity issues. The SHEC will emphasize health disparity indicators and gaps in existing data to illustrate the importance of collecting data from minority groups. The SHEC developed the report card using Healthy People 2020 goals (where available), year comparisons, and national comparisons to grade each indicator.
Although the SHEC region is known to have some of the poorest performing states in the nation, the data never cease to provide compelling evidence of unequal burdens of disease in our communities. The Southeast
represents 19 percent of the total population in the country. Yet in 2010, this region accounted for 21 percent of heart disease mortality nationally, with factors such as
hypertension affecting this population at a substantially higher rate than other areas of the country.
A health equity report card could not come at a more opportune time, with the ongoing national discourse about health care access and reducing the costs of health care. In spotlighting the disparities in the Southeastern region of the country, we create a unique opportunity to educate local and national policy makers, and generate discourse that can influence health outcomes in the region for the better.
We can effectively point policy makers toward decisions that improve healthy food choices, enhance health care access and promote well-being. We also create the opportunity to specify populations and issues that merit the attention of state and local policy makers and communities. Over time, we have a real opportunity to look back in time and ask – “did we make the grade?”
The development of the SHEC health equity report card is an exciting first step in making this vision a reality. However, it is important to remember that we must all play our parts in making the states in the Southeast a healthier place to live.
How do you grade progress on health disparities indicators in your state or region? Let us know by commenting below.
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Amirah Abdullah is a third-year, doctoral candidate in Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She is pursuing an academic concentration in epidemiology along with a certificate in maternal and child health, and would like pursue a career in perinatal epidemiology and health policy research.