Working to achieve health equity through public health

An important factor in one’s health, something not often considered, is a lack of hope or power to control one’s personal, neighborhood, or work environment. A growing body of evidence indicates that when people lack the ability to influence the context of their lives, it can affect their immune systems and vulnerability to disease. Minorities are most often affected by these vulnerabilities because they are most often dealing with poverty, discrimination, and denied opportunities.

At San Juan Basin Health (SJBH), every program’s purpose is viewed through a lens of health for all. We believe that everyone in our community deserves the opportunity to make the choices that allow them to live a long, healthy life, regardless of their income, education, ethnic background, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

diversityThese concepts can be summed up by the term health equity, or giving everyone a chance to achieve their best potential of health. Many elements come into play when examining the imbalance of resources faced by underserved and vulnerable populations. Since health begins where we live, work and play, considering factors such as access to adequate transportation, safety of one’s neighborhood, socioeconomic status, access to healthy foods, family and community supports, and many others will lead to better opportunities to achieve improved health.

Every day at SJBH we see individuals and families in our local communities struggling with a lack of resources that others in the community may take for granted. As a result, many SJBH programs are providing referrals for affordable housing and transportation as well as providing nutritional counseling and health screenings.

An example of an SJBH program focused on health equity is the Promotor Program. SJBH Promotors work at breaking down barriers for ethnically diverse, low-income, and LGBT populations in La Plata and Archuleta counties. Many of these clients come to us with a variety of needs yet lack a sense of control over how to proceed and where to go for help. The Promotor approach is to not lead by the hand, but rather build trust with  clients, share  tools to improve health, make referrals to meet a wide range of needs, and empower them through education and health counseling.

At a recent conference, I rubbed elbows with the most important thought leaders in public health. Each of them was tearfully passionate about health equity and the urgency of addressing it as the top social injustice in the United States today. Achieving health equity requires valuing all populations equally and recognizing and rectifying injustice.

Health equity is embedded in SJBH’s mission and vision. We strive for healthy public spaces, increased food access for low-income families, coordinated care across community providers, and safe homes for new moms or elderly clients. If denied the opportunity for these, our community’s most vulnerable individuals will be in poor health. We believe health is for all, and our opportunity for health equity starts now.