The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing health inequities for Marylanders, but experts say there are ways to lessen gaps.
At the 2021 MACo Summer Conference session, “Health Equity – What’s at Stake for Your County,” attendees learned about the basics of health equity, best practices to advance it, and challenges counties face to do so.
The session was moderated by Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes and featured several public health experts, including Prince George’s County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter, St. Mary’s County Health Officer Dr. Meenakshi Brewster, and Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman.
Dr. Brewster opened the session by defining health equity as “the concept that each person has the opportunity to achieve their best personal health.” She emphasized the role of meaningful partnerships to advance health equity by using the example of her county’s departments of health, education, and public safety working together on a range of policy areas to improve public health and safety outcomes for county residents. She noted, “it makes both sense and cents” to share expertise, staff, and resources when working on public health, public safety, and diversion policy challenges, among others.
Dr. Kalyanaraman emphasized the importance of integrating values of equity into county health policies and declared that “everything is at stake” regarding health equity for counties. He demonstrated this point by using the timely and important example of vaccine equity, which he said should include considerations of access to vaccinations, language barriers and public health education, and geographical challenges. One solution that he offered for counties was employing community-based health ambassadors, which his county found to be effective.
Dr. Carter highlighted the role of disinformation in preventing counties from advancing health equity, with COVID-19 medical disinformation being a prime example. He also emphasized the importance of community-driven policy, especially for large, diverse counties like his. He concluded that collective action is critically important to advance health equity.
The session was held on August 19, 2021, at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, Maryland.
Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: