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New Md. commission will work toward ‘health equity framework’

Legislation to create the commission was sponsored by state Sen. Mary Washington, D-Baltimore, right, who now sits on the panel.(The Daily Record/File Photo)

The Maryland Commission on Health Equity held its first meeting Monday, laying out the panel’s mission to provide advice on issues related to health disparities and help the state set health equity goals.

The commission was created through SB 52, named The Shirley Nathan-Pulliam Health Equity Act of 2021 after the titular senator, a pioneering voice for health equity in Maryland, during the 2021 General Assembly session. It went into effect on Oct. 1

Sponsored by Sen. Mary Washington, who is the Maryland Senate’s representative on the commission, the legislation was one of a number of bills introduced last session that centered on health disparities and the social determinants of health or the notion that various social, economic and environmental factors affect people’s health outcomes.

Chaired by Steven Schuh, the Maryland Department of Health’s deputy secretary for health care financing and Medicaid, the commission includes 25 representatives of various state agencies who will meet four times annually.

The commission will be expected to develop a plan for the state to achieve health equity; submit an annual report each year starting in 2022; deliver a study on the impacts of the health effects of inequity by Dec. 1, 2023; identify ways to measure and advance health equity in Maryland; and develop policies to improve the state’s health.

MCHE will include two subcommittees. The first is a data advisory committee that will aim to both provide recommendations regarding data collection and develop and maintain health equity data for the commission.

The second is a health policy committee that will focus on implementing a health equity framework — a public health framework that seeks to improve health outcomes for citizens by incorporating health considerations across policy sectors.

Maryland already has a number of groups committed to examining health disparities, such as the Population Health Management Group and the Racial Disparities in Overdose Task Force, Schuh noted. Part of MCHE’s purpose will be leveraging the research conducted by and the initiatives launched by these other groups in its own work; it will also aim to unite the work of different task forces and groups to ensure that they are working towards common goals.

The pandemic has highlighted the number of social and environmental factors that influence health, both in Maryland and worldwide. Health equity became a hot topic during the 2021 General Assembly session.

Another bill that came out of the session seeks to implement Health Equity Resource Communities — neighborhoods in which the state will aim to improve the health outcomes by awarding grants that will improve access to health services in the area. The program, which will issue $13 million in grants, will focus on promoting access to primary and preventive care in underserved communities.

That initiative, too, is now underway, with the Pathways to Health Equity Program’s request for proposals going out last week.


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