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To Reduce Health and Racial Inequities, Prioritize Authentic Community Collaboration
By Dr. Pooja Mittal & Dana Sherrod
Published October 14, 2021

(L-R): Dana Sherrod & Pooja Mittal

The U.S. recently reached another devastating milestone in its fight against COVID-19 – one in 500 Americans have died from coronavirus.[1] Certain communities have been hit harder, with a glaring gap in cases and outcomes among different racial and ethnic groups. Despite representing a smaller subset of the U.S.’s total population, data on the COVID-19 death rate reveal the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 deaths among Hispanic/Latino and Black Americans.[2] This points to a startling issue in our healthcare system: the prevalence of health disparities across diverse populations, which the pandemic has further exacerbated.

One-third of Californians are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s health plan for many of California’s most vulnerable patients – including low-income adults, children, persons with disabilities and immigrants. This population historically experiences health disparities at higher rates – disparities driven by systemic racism and a range of social determinants, including socioeconomic status, education, food security, housing and more.[3]

As the state prepares for an historic expansion of Medi-Cal, we must prioritize work that moves us toward more equitable health outcomes for all patients. Experience has taught us that addressing inequities requires centering our efforts on and with the people most disproportionately impacted and linking arms with trusted community partners that have deep experience. At Health Net, we cultivate long-standing relationships with regional and local providers, community clinics and community-based organizations to drive these changes for our members.

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Cherished Futures for Black Moms & Babies (Cherished Futures) is one example of an effective collaboration that works to address inequities while also reshaping a healthcare model that focuses on racial equity to improve Black maternal and infant health.

Cherished Futures focuses on system-level strategies to lower Black infant mortality rates and improve the Black patient experience in L.A. County. The collaborative is a joint initiative of Communities Lifting Communities, Public Health Alliance of Southern California and Hospital Association of Southern California, and is partially funded by Health Net. The two-year cohort model centers the voices and experiences of Black women to build meaningful, data-backed change at the clinical, institutional and community levels.

The breadth of this collaborative model has been key to the program’s success. It has brought together decision-makers from local hospitals, public health departments, health plans and Black women community leaders to examine anti-Black racism as a root cause of unequal medical treatment and birth outcomes and work to identify solutions that directly improve health outcomes.

Cherished Futures aims to develop a cadre of hospitals, providers, clinics and community advocates that are knowledgeable about, and actively working to eliminate birth inequities, particularly among Black families.

Like our partnership with Cherished Futures, Health Net similarly addresses other critical health disparities through collaborations with trusted community organizations. As one of the longest serving Medi-Cal partners, Health Net has invested more than $93 million to support 500 community-based organizations over the past five years. In doing so, we’ve learned about what works and what doesn’t.

Recently, Health Net released a new report, “Getting to Care: A Key Findings Report about Health Equity in California.” The report is informed by the lived experiences of the communities we serve and shares the importance of community-based resources, multi-faceted solutions and cultural competency to reduce disparities among our most vulnerable residents. Most importantly, these practical recommendations can be leveraged across the healthcare system.

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As California continues to grow and Medi-Cal expands, it’s crucial that we continue to prioritize meaningful change to eliminate health inequities and bridge the divide in access and quality of care. This means working in solidarity with community leaders with lived expertise, investing in the hardest-hit communities and building a healthcare system rooted in trust and designed for long-term quality care for all.

Dr. Pooja Mittal, Health Equity Lead, Health Net & Dana Sherrod, Cherished Futures Lead

Categories: Opinion
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