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HRSA Report on Health Equity Calls for Strong Partnerships and a Focus on Social Determinants of Health

March 29, 2018

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has released its Health Equity Report for 2017. The report presents a current picture of and progress made to address health equity issues affecting the country’s diverse, vulnerable, and socially disadvantaged populations.

HRSA is the primary federal agency for improving access to health care by strengthening the health care workforce, building healthy communities, and achieving health equity. HRSA creates programs to provide health care to people who are geographically isolated and economically or medically vulnerable.

Health equity is the absence of disparities or avoidable differences among socioeconomic and demographic groups or geographic areas in health status and health outcomes such as disease, disability, or mortality. Health inequities refer to inequalities that are deemed to be unfair, unjust, avoidable, or unnecessary, and that can be reduced or remedied through policy action.

While HRSA has made significant progress to address and improve the health and well-being of all Americans, health inequities between population groups and geographic areas continue.

There are many steps that can be taken to improve population health and health equity, such as reduced smoking, greater physical activity, healthy diet, higher seatbelt use, avoiding substance use, and improved access to and use of health care services. These behaviors, however, are influenced by social determinants such as education, income, social and welfare services, affordable housing, job creation, labor market opportunities, and transportation.

HRSA stresses that dealing with inequities in these social determinants must be a critical area of focus. The report calls for a multisector approach involving health, education, nutrition, housing, urban planning, transportation, and economic sectors. This requires increased collaboration between public and private sectors and various stakeholders including state and local agencies, and emphasizes the need for community-based approaches to reducing health disparities.

Pennsylvania’s hospitals are increasingly focused on population health initiatives through community partnerships. This works extends beyond the traditional health care focus to dealing with food insecurity, homelessness, and violence.

The HRSA report also reveals that the opioid epidemic in rural areas has shed light on the shortfall of substance abuse treatment providers and facilities in the rural U.S. Findings show that while family doctors, psychologists, social workers, and pastors may be available in rural areas for delivering basic substance abuse services or social support, facilities providing comprehensive substance abuse treatment services may be limited.

As a rural state, Pennsylvania is grappling with how to address this access to services issue. HAP and its hospital members continue to call for greater resources to support comprehensive substance abuse treatment services across the state, including rural communities.

The Health Equity Report is an ongoing project. HRSA plans to update national and HRSA program level health and sociodemographic data and related information on a biennial basis to help guide local, state, and national strategies to improve health status and address inequities.

For information about HAP’s community health needs assessment and population health efforts, contact Rob Shipp, HAP’s vice president, population health strategies.

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