Imagine that your state was handed a report card that graded the health of residents. Do you think that your community would score an A+, or come close to failing? Do all population groups in your state have equal access to health care, culturally competent services, and nutritious foods?
These are the questions that the Southeastern Health Equity Council (SHEC) sought to answer by developing a health equity report card for the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. These states comprise diverse populations, with some groups demonstrating an increased risk of adverse health outcomes and many residing in rural locations that restrict access to care. This situation diminishes the region’s potential for economic and social advancement. The SHEC embraces a data-informed approach to change the social determinants that reinforce health disparities.
The report card assigns grades to regional health care access, healthy food access, cultural competence, and related health outcomes. The SHEC defined a grading system that compares each data point to benchmarks such as Healthy People 2020 and national averages, broken down by race, ethnicity, gender, urban/rural location, disability, and sexual orientation. This document also establishes a benchmark to measure progress and calls attention to gaps in data collection and public reporting.
Some of the key findings are:
· Insurance rates among racial and ethnic minorities in the Southeast are lower than the national average. Individuals with health insurance have more access to medical care.
· All Southeastern states scored an “F” in food security and had poor consumption of fruits, physical activity, obesity rates and diabetes rates.
· No state in the Southeast currently requires culturally competency education for healthcare professionals. Culturally competent health care is one important way to ensure people receive the appropriate level of care within the health system.
The health equity report card highlights key areas of consideration for policy efforts related to how the physical environment, food choices, and health behaviors affect an individuals’ lifespan. Implications of the SHEC’s findings for policy and practice include 1) the need for Medicaid expansion, 2) the need to have food-financing programs at the state and regional level, and 3) the need for requirements for cultural competency education among health care professionals.
As a next step, the SHEC will use this report card to educate state and local policy makers as well as other health care colleagues, sharing recommendations that will improve healthy food choices, enhance health care access and promote well-being.
The SHEC will kick off this effort with a webinar that reviews the report card’s key findings, implications for practice in the Southeastern region, and ways to take action in your community and state. Please register here to participate in the webinar, ‘Making the Grade: The Southeastern Health Equity Report Card’ at 2:00pm EST on April 23, 2014. Join us to make the states in the Southeast – and across the U.S. - a healthier place to live.
To view the report card, to learn more on the efforts of the SHEC to improve health equity, and to sign up for the SHEC email listserv, visit our website.
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Amirah Abdullah is a doctoral candidate in Public Health at the University of Kentucky, where she is pursuing an academic concentration in epidemiology and a certificate in maternal and child health. Ms. Abdullah would like pursue a career in perinatal epidemiology and health disparities research