Ohio unveils several steps in attempt to address racial health disparities

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the disparities in health among the race, and Gov. Mike DeWine announced several steps the state is taking to help address those disparities.

DeWine said Thursday a new position within the Ohio Department of Health — the Deputy Director of Social Determinants of Health and Opportunity — will focus on community conditions that affect health, well-being, and economic vitality.

“A primary focus will be on collecting the best data to inform the best practices to lead our strategy moving forward,” DeWine said. “Further, a key function will be to help ensure the implementation of the Minority Strike Force’s short-term and long-term recommendations.”

The Ohio Commission on Minority Health set up a task force in April to investigate the disparity in health for minorities.

The task force reported that while African-Americans make up 14 percent of the state’s population, they represent 26 percent of positive COVID-19 cases, 31 percent of COVID-19 hospitalizations, and 17 percent of COVID-19 deaths, DeWine said.

Some of the recommendations put forth by the task force so far include:

  • Establishing culturally appropriate and accessible COVID-19 exposure notification services for communities of color.
  • Expanding testing capacity and access for minorities and high-risk populations.
  • Using data to prioritize resources in the communities that have the highest need. 
  • Developing and launching a statewide, culturally-sensitive outreach campaign that educates African Americans and communities of color on COVID-19, health disparities, and social determinants of health.

“Disparities in health and healthcare are intertwined with social and economic conditions, as well as race, ethnic background, age, and even geography,” DeWine said

The state, in partnership with the non-profit Ohio Association of Community Health Centers (OACHC), will also work to expand COVID-19 testing to minority communities. According to DeWine, the OACHC health centers are located in economically depressed communities and offer high-quality health care.

The partnership with OACHC, along with the Nationwide Foundation, will provide thousands of community wellness kits to help protect families in communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus.

The kits will include protection-related items such as face coverings, hand sanitizer, and soap.

No distribution details were announced Thursday.

The state is also looking to hire more public health workers who can help notify Ohioans of possible exposure to the coronavirus.

The goal is to hire individuals who represent and reflect the make-up of their communities, DeWine said.

DeWine said Thursday that the understanding that the inequalities exist is not something new.

The Ohio Department of Health and Minority Health Strike Force will also work with Us for Us to unveil a new communications campaign aimed at Ohio’s minority populations called “Stay in the Fight,” according to a release from DeWine’s office.

This campaign will focus on the need to stay informed, stay involved, and stay inspired during the pandemic.

New data dashboards unveiled Thursday allows the state to track key factors associated with health and well being in an effort to better determine vulnerable populations in need of help.

The new data, which allows users to search by ethnicity and race, can be viewed on the state’s coronavirus website.

“As governor, my job is to help protect the safety of all of our communities,” DeWine said. “We have an obligation to be even more mindful in our response to helping those at higher risk. It should not matter where you live or what race you are. We have an obligation to help all Ohioans.”

A second data collection tool unveiled Thursday – what DeWine called an Ohio Opportunity Index — allows the state to target resources to areas where citizens are the most vulnerable.

The final recommendations from the Minority Health Strike Force are set to be released on June 11.

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