Image of health care concept (cigdem via Shutterstock)
(cigdem via Shutterstock) Credit: cigdem / Shutterstock

Health inequities in our state are not breaking news. They are upending lives every day, nonetheless. COVID-19’s astounding toll of death and illness for people of color and low-income residents of Connecticut has both widened disparities in health and wealth and drawn attention to them. We must leverage newfound focus on these inequities to create lasting and meaningful policy change.

Connecticut’s Health Equity Week, an annual event to raise awareness about health equity and policies to advance equity in our state, is being held April 4-10. This year, Health Equity Solutions and our partners are outlining a path to health equity through policy for Connecticut to show that while health equity will require long-term and challenging changes, it is an attainable goal.

Currently, nearly 21% of Connecticut’s population is fully vaccinated, and our state ranks third in the nation for administering at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine. On the surface, our state looks great. However, a closer look at the data shows we are failing to meet vaccination equity targets for residents facing the greatest burdens. We know that across all age groups Black residents face the lowest vaccination rates while Latinx residents are facing the greatest job loss, a reflection of our collective failure to address the consequences of systemic racism within the context of the pandemic response.

We have a long road ahead, but the path is clearly marked, and each step is feasible. Research, common experience, and generational knowledge tell us that the historical and contemporary relationship between racism and health is one of the greatest barriers to achieving health equity in Connecticut. No one policy can address this; together the steps along the path can. The steps in our online visual depiction of this path do not have to be completed in the sequence shown as long as we coordinate, evaluate our progress, include community voices, and adjust our policies to address unforeseen challenges along the way. 

So where do we start? Step 1: Advance anti-racist systems and structures by declaring racism a public health crisis and enacting government structures that embed health equity in policymaking. For example, fund staff to create racial and ethnic impact assessments on policy proposals, create a health equity in all policies approach in the executive branch, and increase community engagement in state decision making.

Step 2: Create equitable opportunities to be healthy by distributing federal relief funding equitably. This starts with assessing inequities in impact and need and then targeting these. This step, too, would greatly benefit from community engagement.

Step 3: Standardize and publicly report race and ethnicity data. We need the data to evaluate the impacts of racism and attempts to address it.

Steps 4-6: Improve access to health care by sustainably funding community health workers and doulas to bridge barriers to health, linking community benefit spending to community needs, and ensuring equitable access to broadband and telehealth services.

These are just few concrete steps along the path to health equity that Connecticut’s General Assembly could pass this year. Plenty more established ways to dismantle racism and build a more equitable state are readily available from the state’s strong academic and advocacy communities. To learn more about the path to health equity in Connecticut, join us for Health Equity Week and share your thoughts about which steps you would add to or prioritize on this initial version of Connecticut’s Path to Health Equity.

Being intentional about addressing the public health crisis that racism is means working diligently across every branch of government, every agency, and within the Connecticut General Assembly to uproot, uncover, and dismantle racism wherever it shows up, including in our policies and in ourselves. We are grateful to have so many partners on the journey to ensure every Connecticut resident can attain optimal health regardless of race or ethnicity and look forward to working together to make real progress toward health equity in 2021. COVID-19 has shone a light on inequities in health; now, let’s use that light to illuminate the path to equity and make that path a reality.

Dr. Tekisha Dwan Everette is the inaugural executive director of Health Equity Solutions.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of