The Department of Health hosted a two-day Health Equity Summit affirming the department’s commitment to eliminate health disparities in Pennsylvania by 2030 by increasing awareness, educating participants and developing action steps to eliminate health inequities in underserved communities.
“It truly takes dedication from us all to eliminate health disparities – and being here today shows our commitment to address inequities to create a healthy Pennsylvania for all,” Dr. Denise Johnson Pennsylvania’s Physician General said during opening remarks on the second day of the Health Equity Summit in Pittsburgh.
The summit welcomed in-person and virtual participation by almost 400 professionals from across the state and country to unite on health equity initiatives and foster conversations coordinated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health Office of Health Equity and the American Lung Association, who worked as a planning partner. Participants in the summit discussed a variety of topics including social determinants of health, pathways to prevention, rural health equity, mental health, youth-led initiatives and social justice.
The need for these conversations was heightened by public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid epidemic that have disproportionately affected Pennsylvania’s underserved communities and demonstrated the importance of addressing specific needs of various and distinct populations to reduce disparities and improve health for those populations. As the Department of Health Office of Health Equity celebrates 15 years of excellence, the department renews its commitment to ensure that fellow Pennsylvanians reach their full health potential.
To combat health disparities within communities, the Department of Health deployed Community Health Organizers (CHOs) across the commonwealth in Fall 2021 to work with community partners to identify vaccination sites, promote vaccination clinics and identify trusted messengers to promote vaccination and prevention tactics. The CHOs develop and work with county coalitions and organizations that address immediate and future needs in the respective communities the CHO represents.
The primary goals of the CHO program are to bring resources together for residents by aligning with local, regional and statewide partners and building sustainable infrastructures and models that will connect Pennsylvanians to resources nearest them to address issues that could contribute to poor health, socioeconomic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
“As we recognize National Public Health Week, I would like to thank professionals for their work to address health inequalities while providing high-quality care,” Dr. Johnson said. “Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Alma Illery Medical Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center located within a Health Equity Zone, to see the local efforts made to perform health screenings, assess an individual’s health needs and ensure access to all vaccinations including but not limited to the COVID-19 vaccine. I’m excited about the efforts we are currently undertaking to eliminate health disparities across the commonwealth and encouraged by the plans we have moving forward.”
For more information on the Community Health Organizers, visit the Department of Health’s community health organizer website at www.health.pa.gov.