Community Partnered Approach to Address Health Disparities: The Santa Clara County Health Equity Agenda

By: Dr. Andrew Carter

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reified and exacerbated historical and structurally-rooted health inequities across the country. In Santa Clara County, the pandemic and its wider impact has had a disproportionately negative impact on the health of Black, Latinx, and low-income communities – particularly in East San Jose, Gilroy, and pockets throughout the County.  To address this crisis, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez proposed the establishment of a Health Equity Agenda in June, 2021. The goal of the Agenda is  to establish a Steering Committee of county leaders, determine key health equity metrics for the County, and propose recommendations to address health inequities. Driven by Steering Committee members from Working Partnerships USA, The Health Trust, Santa Clara Family Health Plan (SCFHP), Behavioral Health Contractors Association, Black Leadership Kitchen Cabinet, Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, and Community Health Partnership, the Agenda incorporates both grasstops and grassroots approaches to represent multi-level perspectives from the public, academic, professional, and community sectors.

Establishing such a lofty agenda is no easy task. The Steering Committee sought out consultants to support the development of the Agenda, rooted in the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII) model toward achieving racial health equity (which prioritizes an upstream, justice-oriented approach). The Redstone Strategy Group, a leading social impact consulting firm  has spearheaded the effort to examine health inequities in the County identifiable through existing data sources, facilitate dialogue with the Steering Committee to understand priorities grounded in their organizations’ expertise, and delve into literature and best practices around potential policies and programs to address inequities.

On the academic and community side, Drs. Vicky Gomez and Rachel Berkowitz, along with a team of four SJSU undergraduate and graduate Public Health and Recreation students, have been tapped to engage with the local community to understand and elevate the priorities of residents and community leaders regarding the Health Equity Agenda. Drawing on their backgrounds in community health education, participatory action research, and place-based community development, Gomez and Berkowitz have conducted 15 interviews with key stakeholders from diverse organizations (including Destination:Home, AACI, Saratoga Area Senior Coordinating Council, Indian Health Center of Santa Clara Valley, Latinas Contra Cancer, and many more) and are preparing to host a number of community conversations to learn the locally-constituted, context-specific perspectives of Santa Clara County residents. Information from the interviews and conversations will be integrated with Redstone’s proposed metrics and recommendations to establish a multifaceted Health Equity Agenda. Additionally, the SJSU team will work to  develop several digital stories  (i.e., a community-based participatory method that incorporates short-form, digital media production to center marginalized voices) to illuminate and make real the experiences of county residents related to health inequities.

The Health Equity Agenda constitutes a multi-year, four-phase plan to develop, implement, and evaluate county-wide health equity interventions over the next 5-10 years.  Mirroring national and global calls to incorporate intersectional and intersectoral approaches in addressing health inequities, the Health Equity Agenda represents an important step toward improving and ultimately rectifying structural health disparities experienced by local Santa Clara County residents. If you have specific questions or would like more information, please contact:

Dr. Vicky Gomez

Dr. Rachel Berkowitz

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