Ministry of Health aims to eliminate health disparities in local communities

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The Department of Health hosted a two-day Health Equity Summit affirming the department’s commitment to eliminating health disparities in Pennsylvania by 2030 by raising awareness, educating attendees, and developing action steps to eliminate health inequities in underserved communities.

“It really takes dedication on all of us to eliminate health disparities — and being here today shows our commitment to addressing inequities to create a healthy Pennsylvania for all,” said Surgeon General Dr. Pennsylvania’s Denise Johnson during the keynote address for the second day of the Health Equity Summit in Pittsburgh.

The summit welcomed in-person and virtual participation from nearly 400 professionals from across the state and nation 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, which worked as a partner planner. Summit participants 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 has been reinforced by public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and the opioid epidemic that have disproportionately impacted underserved communities in Pennsylvania and demonstrated the importance of meeting the needs of diverse and distinct populations to reduce disparities and improve the health of these populations. As the Department of Health’s Office of Health Equity celebrates 15 years of excellence, the department renews its commitment to ensuring other Pennsylvanians reach their full health potential.

To address health disparities within communities, the Department of Health deployed Community Health Organizers (CHOs) across the Commonwealth in the fall of 2021 to work with community partners to identify vaccination sites , promote vaccination clinics and identify trusted messengers to promote vaccination and prevention tactics. CHOs develop and work with coalitions and county organizations that meet the immediate and future needs of the respective communities represented by the CHOs.

The primary goals of the CHO program are to bring together resources for residents by aligning with local, regional and statewide partners and building sustainable infrastructure and models that will connect Pennsylvanians to the most close to them to address issues that may be contributing to poor health, socio-economic, environmental and lifestyle factors.

“As we recognize National Public Health Week, I want to thank professionals for their work in addressing health inequities while providing high quality care,” said Dr Johnson. “Just yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Alma Illery Medical Center, a federally licensed health center located in a health equity zone, to see the local efforts being made to perform health screenings, assess an individual’s health needs, and ensure access to all vaccines, including but not limited to the COVID-19 vaccine. I am excited about the efforts we are now undertaking to eliminate health disparities across the Commonwealth and encouraged by the plans we have moving forward.

For more information about Community Health Organizers, visit the Department of Health’s Community Health Organizers website at www.health.pa.gov.

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