According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This human rights ideal is rooted in the understanding that social and class inequalities ultimately lead to inequalities in population health and individual health outcomes. The recent COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted longstanding inequities among population groups in the United States. How can county leaders and stakeholders use an understanding of health equity to work towards building communities that effectively and appropriately respond to residents' needs? How can counties best use their resources to target long-lasting change while attending to immediate crises? On May 5, NACo hosted a webinar discussion on Long-Range Planning for Health, Equity & Prosperity to address these questions and provide practical county solutions.
The Long Range-Planning for Health, Equity & Prosperity: A Primer for Local Governments is a tool developed by ChangeLab Solutions that offers a framework to support the alignment of health equity policies across local government departments as well as guidance on integrating equity into long-range planning, community engagement, investment and evaluation processes. Greg Miao, Senior Attorney at ChangeLab Solutions, framed the discussion with three elements communities should incorporate when planning for the future:
- Understand the ways in which communities and counties have changed in the past
- Use our understanding of the past and today’s trends and patterns to anticipate how communities and counties will change in the future, and
- Develop strategies to leverage anticipated change in ways that align with overall communities and county vision.
The discussion also featured Justin Rivas of County Health Rankings and Roadmaps of the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin who drew connections between built environment, infrastructure and health outcomes and shared the growing evidence base linking stable and affordable housing to health. This becomes particularly relevant as individuals experiencing homelessness are at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.
Josh Lee, Chief of Planning at the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Transportation Authority, closed the discussion with his county’s efforts to engage various sectors of local government, including the County Transportation Commission, the Sub-regional Planning Agency and Council of Governments, to develop a joint vision for wellness and equity. Mr. Lee reiterated the importance of adapting existing administrative and programmatic practices and processes to center equity rather than creating novel policies where applicable and relevant.
A resounding theme throughout the webinar was that no action, policy or process is truly equity-neutral and progress requires effort. While not unique in and of itself, the COVID-19 pandemic provides a critical opportunity for counties to intentionally center equity in their practices and policies. To access a recording of the Long-Range Planning for Health, Equity and Prosperity webinar, please click here.
This webinar is part of a series of resources offered to members as NACo works to support counties throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. For more information on upcoming COVID-19 webinars and events or to access previous content, please click here.