Advancing the Response to COVID-19 Blog Series: Sandra C. Brown, DNS, APRN

Posted on July 20, 2022 by Sandra C. Brown, DNS, APRN

Sandra C. Brown, DNS, APRN is Dean and Professor at the College of Nursing and Allied Health, Southern University and A&M Baton Rouge and co-chairs the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. In September 2020, Dr. Brown joined the Office of Minority Health (OMH) for a virtual symposium highlighting state, tribal, territorial, and community-based efforts to address COVID-19 among racial and ethnic minority and American Indian and Alaska Native populations.

OMH is focused on the success, sustainability, and spread of health equity-promoting policies, programs, and practices. As part of its blog series, “Advancing the Response to COVID-19,” OMH followed up with Ms. Brown to learn more about the continued successes and challenges of the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force since her presentation in 2020.

During your presentation at the OMH Virtual Symposium in September 2020, you mentioned that Louisiana has long been one of the least healthy states in the country. Compared to other states, how did this create more challenges for the Louisiana Health Equity Task Force?

With Louisiana ranking 50th in the country as the least healthy state, the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force knew that we could not address COVID-19 without addressing the health disparities that have plagued our state for over two decades. We also knew that we could not address health disparities without addressing health equity. COVID-19 did not cause the health disparities in our state, but it certainly did expose them. This created more challenges because we knew what the data showed and that we had to act swiftly to come up with meaningful deliverables that could be implemented short-term, intermediately, and long-term for sustainability.

We identified nine key priority areas and divided these areas into subcommittees. The nine priority areas included:

  1. COVID-19 Testing for Vulnerable and At-Risk Communities
  2. COVID-19 Data and Analysis
  3. COVID-19 in Special Populations – LA Prisons
  4. COVID-19 in Special Populations – Nursing Homes
  5. COVID-19 Policy and Regulatory Affairs
  6. COVID-19 Community Outreach and Stakeholders Engagement
  7. COVID-19 Communication and Messaging
  8. COVID-19 Health Equity Dashboard
  9. COVID-19 Racial Disparities in Healthcare

Download a copy of the Louisiana COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force Subcommittee Reports .

You previously noted that the Task Force provided valuable recommendations regarding equitable COVID-19 testing protocols. How did these recommendations influence the delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations once they became available?

The subcommittee on COVID-19 Testing for Vulnerable and At-Risk Communities reviewed the State-wide Testing Plan for COVID-19, antibody testing, and quarantine. They also reviewed statewide protocols for testing, geo-mapping of testing, barriers to testing, testing site locations, COVID-19 mobile testing efforts, local government’s role in testing, and contact tracing efforts. A comprehensive recommendation to facilitate COVID-19 testing for vulnerable and at-risk communities (symptomatic and asymptomatic) was produced. These recommendations helped to influence the process by which COVID-19 vaccinations could be accessed within the community.

At the time of your presentation, the Task Force was in the process of designing a health equity dashboard. Can you tell us more about that development process and about the current state of the dashboard?

The dashboard subcommittee worked to identify the data elements of health equity determinants that would constitute the Health Equity Dashboard. This included a review of existing dashboards in other states and identifying data elements specific to Louisiana. The subcommittee identified major categories of health equity determinants data which included:

  • Personal, individual, behavioral, and lifestyle determinants
  • Community and social determinants
  • Economic stability
  • Neighborhood and the built environment
  • Economic determinants
  • Environmental determinants
  • Political determinants
  • Health determinants
  • Health care access
  • Population structure

The dashboard subcommittee recommended that the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) Office of Community Partnerships & Health Equity (OPH) provide the authority and administrative responsibility to create, maintain, evaluate, and continually improve the Louisiana Health Equity Dashboard based on current evidence and research.

We are delighted to report that The State Health Assessment Dashboard has been developed and can be accessed at:

Louisiana Public Health Institute has worked collaboratively with LDH/OPH in developing the dashboard. Their efforts have resulted in over 5,400 unique visitors to the dashboard since its launch in March 2021. The dashboard has garnered national attention, receiving a Government Experience Award from the Center for Digital Government.

Over the past two years, how has your public health messaging strategy changed to continue addressing distrust and misinformation?

The common theme of our public health messaging strategy was to deliver health and safety content messaging to those who were most vulnerable and those who were at the heart of health disparities in Louisiana including the aged, young adults, people of color, and those who were economically disadvantaged. We felt that any delay in communication and messaging would increase the likelihood that more people would contract COVID-19, more hospitalizations would result, and ultimately more people would die. Therefore, the Communications Subcommittee worked diligently to get messages out quickly. They were charged with producing “products” in the form of advertisements and other messaging to the general public and targeted groups. As the pandemic continued, other platforms were used to address distrust and misinformation as it related to COVID vaccines such as town hall meetings using medical experts, churches and faith-based communities, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

They spent a number of weeks studying marketing mechanisms needed to best target messaging through the Louisiana State University Manship School of Mass Communications . Messages in Spanish and Vietnamese were developed. Social media platforms were used as well as digital billboards, television, and radio.

Of the various digital communication platforms, you mentioned – social media, TV ads, and digital billboards – what was the most effective platform for your initiatives?

The effectiveness of communication and messaging to reach, inform, and impact change is multifactorial. We have no empirical data to support that one form of communication was more effective than the other. We tried every communication platform to reach our target audience. Anecdotal comments suggest that social media is the most cost-effective and far-reaching for our younger population, whereas TV and radio commercials may have been more effective for reaching our older population. Digital billboards are costly, so we learned early on to strategically use those in heavily populated areas near the interstate and within vulnerable geographic communities.

Related Resources

Watch Ms. Brown’s original virtual symposium presentation on OMH’s YouTube channel.

Visit The Presidential COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force page to see other recommendations on addressing COVID-19 nationally.