Frontline Blog

DC Health models collaborating across city agencies to achieve health equity

May 2023

Graphic showing headshot of Anneta Arno and Cities the Future of Health Webinar Series

Health equity is everybody’s work, because there is enough work for all of us to get busy. But what is critical is that we’re all focused on moving in the right direction.

C. Anneta Arno, PhD, MPH

In a webinar with the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC), Dr. Anneta Arno, Director of the Office of Health Equity at DC Health, offered a vision and practical tips for public health departments seeking to (1) center equity in public health and (2) center public health in all city-wide decision making. These are two goals at the heart of BCHC’s Urban Health Agenda, the organization’s vision for the future of local governmental public health.

Arno described her experience working on DC Health’s 2018 health equity report, a 250-page document that mapped nine social and structural drivers of health and demonstrated inequities across the city. The report showed that these drivers were not distinct but interwoven together and causing inequitable health outcomes based on income, place, and race.

After publishing the report, the Office of Health Equity dug into the work of improving the city’s health landscape. Arno provided some detail on several arms of this process, including a DC Calling All Sectors Initiative 2019–2022, which brought together multiple health, housing, and homelessness agencies and community-based organizations to improve outcomes for pregnant people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity. The group determined what data gaps existed and began filling those gaps. Their work together led DC’s Department of Human Services (DHS) to institute a new policy, expanding homelessness prevention services to pregnant residents, including perinatal health care that starts in the 1st and 2nd trimester. (It had traditionally been limited to the 3rd trimester only.)

As DC Health’s equity work gained more visibility with other government agencies across the city, it inspired further partnerships. In 2021, DC Water approached DC Health to collaborate on their Lead Free DC by 2030 plan. Prior to this, DC Health had not had a formal part in the process of lead abatement in the city. By pooling their data together, the two agencies are working to enhance the implementation strategy for lead abatement to be both more focused for impact and more equitable.

Watch the webinar recording below

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