Public Health leaders this week launched a campaign for healthy communities that creates a framework and initiatives to combat racial and ethnic health disparities across Multnomah County. The move came Thursday, at the Board of County Commissioners meeting, as they proclaimed this National Public Health Week in Multnomah County.
“All across the nation folks are celebrating and recognizing the contributions public health makes to our nation and local communities and we’re excited to be doing that today,” said Public Health Director Rachael Banks. “We couldn’t think of a better way to honor Public Health Week than to celebrate and uplift Community Powered Change.”
Community Powered Change is a partnership between the Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Health Equity Alliance. Community Powered Change leveraged research developed as part of a Community Health Assessment, and developed a Community Health Improvement Plan to correct health disparities. The work was supported through a REACH grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and created in partnership with a coalition of community groups including the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization/Africa House, Unite Oregon and Upstream Public Health.
“We all know health is more than our physical or mental health. Our health is a matter of quality of life, affected by many factors,” said Edna Nyamu, deputy director for the Oregon Community Health Workers Association and a member of the coalition. “Our health is grounded in social, environmental and economical determinants of health. This extends to housing, education, transportation, workforce and food systems.”
The Community Powered Change framework focuses on five priorities to reverse health disparities. They include improving access to culturally and linguistically appropriate health care; addressing the lack of affordable housing; improving access to healthy food, public transportation and quality education for communities of color; and supporting traditional and cultural practices of health and healing.
Paramount among the priorities is addressing racism in institutions and policies.
“Simply put, and no way to sugar coat it, racism is a public health issue. It is behind every disparity you hear us talk about. In order to move forward, we have to plainly state it and address it,” Public Health Director Banks said. “Time after time, year after year, we’ve seen unjust, avoidable, inexcusable inequities by race, gender and a variety of other identities. We know we can end that. And this CHIP is one way of doing that.”
Multnomah County’s Community Health Improvement Plan, also called the CHIP, builds on research produced in 2013, 2014 and 2015 that laid bare glaring health disparities between white residents and residents of color. In 2016, Multnomah County contracted with the Oregon Health Equity Alliance to develop an improvement plan in partnership with organizations comprised of people of color, immigrants, and refugees.
The Community Powered Change campaign will carry out its improvement plan over five years. It will partner with community groups and agencies across the region to integrate equity strategies into their work. And it will team up on projects across different sectors to reach shared goals, said Marilou Carrera, Oregon Health Equity Alliance’s CHIP plan manager.
“Health equity isn’t accomplished in a silo,” Carerra said. “It’s accomplished by those who may not even know the work they’re doing is about health.”
Commissioner Sharon Meieran, who brought forward Thursday’s proclamation, said she was glad to address health equity on the same day the board would adopt a workforce equity strategy to eliminate employment barriers for people of color and other marginalized groups who work for Multnomah County.
“I appreciate the call for accountability. I appreciate the call for us to continue to commit and invest in this work. I personally am committed to continuing this work with Community Powered Change,” she said. “We’re going to get some of these recommendations institutionalized and get some of these practices in place so they can make a difference.”