Spokane Regional Health District’s (SRHD) new role will be the Chief Health Strategist for eliminating health inequities in our region. SRHD will work more effectively and strategically with a broader array of private, public, and community partners to eliminate health inequities, strengthen resilience, and optimize health of all people, truly embodying the Chief Health Strategist role. We plan to broaden our partnerships to authentically engage people from marginalized communities, including communities of color, immigrants, and low income neighborhoods as full partners in addressing environmental, economic, and social determinants of health challenges in our community. We will increase our internal coordination of resources to have maximum impact when we are working with the broader community and priority populations. We also plan to internally fund a dedicated staff person within the agency to help drive the momentum of this effort across agency divisions and programs.
This transformation includes the development of an agency-level framework and internal plan to guide our shift to addressing more upstream factors that contribute to poor health. Staff will engage in conversations and training to acquire the identified skills needed to address health inequities. We will accelerate, resource, and prioritize the development of an agency-wide, systematic approach to address health inequities in the community. New SRHD leadership is committed to changing policy and agency organization to develop this new capacity.
To ensure organizational ownership of this transformation, agency workforce engagement and development is imperative. As the agency transitions to proficiency in addressing root causes of health inequity, staff will be able to influence existing and new partner organizations in collaborating to address these identified issues. SRHD will assess the need for further integration of programs of like purposes and decreasing silos that inhibit collaboration on health equity issues. The transition to this vision will fully involve staff from all levels of the agency.
SRHD is a respected agency that is best known in the community for the reliable health data we produce. While we believe that data-informed decision making is critical, it is also our desire to be the catalyst in identifying and implementing solutions to health inequities. As the data provider, we act as a mirror to the community. A second and perhaps more significant role is to become the conscience of the community by seeking to question whether the inequities identified are acceptable, appropriate or sustainable as we transition health care into community health activities. We believe that our community will support us in this role.
In 2012, SRHD produced the report, “Odds against Tomorrow: Health Inequities in Spokane County”. This publication was the first of its kind in Spokane County and it illuminated how social determinants can perpetuate health inequities. SRHD used this report to increase awareness about health equity and many other county organizations used the report as a template to support their own data assessments. SRHD had the opportunity to play the role of a catalyst at that time, however, we were not prepared and had not taken the right steps. Since then, SRHD has also been working to address health in all policies by creating a tool that can be used to understand the health impacts of policies and projects. This tool was created with a health equity lens and with a more structured focus, we can utilize the tool more effectively in the community. Implementing health equity initiatives is challenging for many health departments.
In our role as Chief Health Strategist, SRHD’s leadership in addressing health inequities will influence the broader community. SRHD has been identified as a public health leader for many efforts and as a medium sized health jurisdiction, many other public health jurisdictions can learn from our approach and potentially replicate it in their communities. SRHD staff have leadership roles in key organizations within the state (Washington Association of Local Public Health Organizations, Washington State Public Health Association) agency workgroups, foundations, and local organizations. Participating in these organizations and workgroups allows SRHD to influence, educate and increase awareness of key population health issues. SRHD was chosen as Center of Excellence within the state to help other local health jurisdictions improve their assessment and evaluation efforts. Developing a viable model and structure to address health equity within our agency will have ripple effects across the state and influence how other public health agencies are addressing health equity.