Health Equity Advisory Commission

The Health Equity Advisory Commission (HEAC) presented to a joint Committee meeting of the House Health Care and Senate Health and Welfare on Wednesday. The agenda included an overview of the HEAC responsibilities, a summary of the HEAC’s 2023 Annual Report, budget and fiscal proposals, and final notes and reflections. The Commission members include thirty representatives from various entities in Vermont. Rev. Mark Hughes is the Chair and represents Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. He and Kristen Murphy (Executive Director, Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council) presented the annual report to the committee, which included government equity, programmatic approach/framework, community engagement, legal and administrative support, policies and programs, funding, grants and training, and continuing education.

Murphy discussed the "Whole Government Approach" explaining that health equity must be pursued with an understanding of the persistent nature of the disparate outcomes across all social determinations of health: housing, education, employment, economic development, criminal justice, etc. She stated that disparities in the social determinations of health compound adverse outcomes, including poor health, to a life-altering and life-threatening degree. She concluded that advancing equity is the responsibility of the whole of our government, and that all agencies and departments within State Government must address inequities in their existing and new policies and programs.

A programmatic approach, according to Murphy, includes building health equity that the State must make a unified effort on policy, training, data collection, and more. That would require a standardized approach across all government policies and programs using an "equity framework." It would also require coordination by a centralized authority, the Office of Health Equity, and decision-making that is informed by impacted communities and dedicated administrative and legal support, as well as access to expertise in data analysis, stakeholder engagement, interagency collaboration, policy analysis, and the root causes of historical inequities.

Murphy continued to discuss the many responsibilities of the Office of Health Equity, including social determinants that contribute to poor health among Vermonters, including particularly those who are Black, Indigenous, and other Persons of Color; individuals who are LGBTQ; and individuals with disabilities. She continued to discuss all of the many items that the Office of Health Equity and the State should be authorized to do to accomplish those responsibilities. They concluded that the HEAC should appoint a Director of Health Equity by Jan. 1, 2024, and that this Director should hire staff, to the extent funds are made available by the General Assembly. They asked for further funding for HEAC to cover ongoing operations, including legal and administrative support, consulting, robust community engagement, staffing and overhead, as well as community and neighborhood-based projects and programming. They specified the budget needs that budget needs amounted to $1,570K.

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