What is the Health Equity Alliance?
The Health Equity Alliance (HEA) is an initiative of the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health (CADH) to enhance the capacity of local health departments, in partnership with community partners and leaders, to achieve health equity through a focus on the social determinants (including the social, political, economic, and environmental conditions) that affect health. Accordingly, the HEA aims to reframe public health practice through an emphasis on improving community conditions, rather than focusing on health education and individual behaviors.
What is the HEA’s Approach?
The three primary components of the HEA’s approach to promoting health equity are the Health Equity Index, workforce development, and community engagement. Each component is discussed further in the text that follows.
What is the Health Equity Index?
The Health Equity Index (Index) is a web-based, community-specific electronic tool, the first of its kind in the nation, that profiles and measures the social determinants (including the social, political, economic, and environmental conditions) that affect health and their correlations with specific health outcomes for specific geographic regions. The Index also generates community-specific scores and GIS maps to aid local health departments in understanding and conceptualizing the root causes of poor health. Moreover, the Index provides direction for collecting additional qualitative data—the narrative of those experiencing or witnessing health inequities. This narrative may be collected from interviews or recorded through media including photos, video, and audio-taping.
What is the Workforce Development Component of the HEA Approach?
HEA’s workforce development component aims to work with the local health department workforce to reframe public health practice to address the social determinants of health. Specific concepts typically addressed include:
Establishing a basic vocabulary to discuss health equity and understanding nuanced definitional differences between terms such as “health inequity” and “health inequality”;
Reviewing the literature on institutional discrimination and other forms of racism, class, and gender discrimination;
Reviewing the literature that documents the link between the social determinants of health and health outcomes;
Enhancing communications skills necessary for meaningful civic engagement;
Discussing the role of result-based accountability in evaluating the effectiveness of programs and policies; and
Reviewing how to use the Health Equity Index.
What is the Community Engagement Component?
HEA’s community engagement component aims to spur community action by facilitating collaboration of local health departments with diverse partners, including community leaders, businesses, health and social agencies, public safety representatives, housing authorities, economic development agencies, planning and zoning boards, schools, and faith-based organizations, to work jointly to improve the health and wellness of community residents.
Such collaboration occurs informally at the local level on a continuous basis. However, in 2004, CADH established a more formalized coalition of community partners, known as the Health Equity Action Team (HEAT), to address health inequity in Connecticut. HEAT currently includes more than fifty local, regional, statewide, and national organizations that include private, nonprofit, community-based, and government agencies, as well as academic institutions, faith-based organizations, and foundations.
Among other functions, HEAT has:
Acted as a statewide advisory board on health equity issues generally and the HEA approach specifically;
Identified and engaged other stakeholders to continually expand membership and build support;
Identified funding sources and other resources to support the HEA; and
Advocated for health equity in Connecticut, primarily through the voices of HEAT’s three legislative champions: US Representative John Larson, Connecticut State Senator Toni Harp, and former Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health Susan Addiss.