The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) last week hosted a day-long conference on health equity that brought together local elected officials, public health leaders, health care providers, researchers, and community advocates for discussions about how they can work together to advance health equity and build a healthier future for the City of Boston.
Notable speakers included Mayor Michelle Wu, State Senator Liz Miranda, Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh, Boston Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, CEO of the Dimock Center, Dr. Charles Anderson, and President and Executive Director of the True Alliance Center, Pastor Dieufort Jean “Keke”
Fleurissant. The conference was sponsored by BPHC, Boston Medical Center, The Health Equity Compact, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, Mass General Brigham, the Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Research at Northeastern University, and CareQuest Institute for Oral Health.
The conference examined the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the challenges, innovations, and systems that emerged and how Boston can build on these lessons to develop interventions, policies, and collaborations that address persistent health inequities in Boston, many of which were exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19.
Dr. Ojikutu began the conference by previewing soon to be published data from the upcoming 2023 Health of Boston report detailing significant inequities that highlight the impact of COVID-19.
· Across all demographic groups, life expectancy in Boston decreased by 3.1 years between 2019 and 2020, falling to 79 years.
· For Black Boston residents, life expectancy fell by 4.4 years to 71.8 years between 2019 and 2020, the lowest life expectancy for any racial group in Boston.
· For Latinx Boston residents, life expectancy fell 4 years to 80.3 years, between 2019 and 2020.
· For Asian residents, who have the highest life expectancy in Boston, life expectancy decreased by 4.5 years to 86.6 years versus a 1.9 year drop in life expectancy amongst
White individuals (to 80 years) from 2019 to 2020.
· From 2017-2021, Black residents experienced a 37.3% increase in premature mortality. There was no significant change in the rate of premature mortality among Asian, Latinx, or White residents from 2017-2021.
These inequities underscored the urgency of Dr. Ojikutu’s call for action to her colleagues.
“Today’s event marks the beginning of a new chapter in Boston’s mission to advance health equity. We have renewed momentum across city stakeholders. I challenge all our public health partners to think differently about how we can put the lessons we have learned over the past three years into action,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Boston has the resources and infrastructure necessary to be a leader in advancing health equity, and I am confident that if we all continue to collaborate, we will achieve transformative change.”
“An informed, community-centered approach is essential to address the inequities that exist in the public health sector,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I am grateful to Dr. Ojikutu, the Boston Public Health Commission, and our community partners for coming together to discuss how we can provide all residents with the care and support they deserve.”
Dr. Kathryn Hall, Deputy Commissioner for Population Health and Health Equity, who led the planning team, saw it as an example strong collaboration.
“The success of today’s conference is the result of collaboration between health equity researchers and public health practitioners at schools of public health, universities academic teaching hospitals and smaller healthcare institutions.
It’s another reminder of the power and potential of what we can accomplish when we work together,” said Dr. Hall.
The day’s panels covered how to mobilize community members during public health emergencies, the path forward for promoting health equity, novel strategies developed during the pandemic to advance health justice, and the intersection between public health policies and partnerships.
Several themes emerged throughout the conversations, including the major impact persistent health inequities have in Boston, as demonstrated by the 23-year life expectancy gap among residents in Back Bay and Roxbury. The need for bold, visionary action to advance health was also a key point of conversation. Promoting community-led health initiatives, increasing diverse and community representation at all levels of public health policymaking, and reparations for descendants of enslaved individuals were all discussed as solutions to some of Boston’s most pressing public health challenges.
Dr. Ojikutu closed the conference by announcing the creation of a BPHC-led Community Health Equity Empowerment Fund (CHEEF) to encourage partnership between community-based organizations and community health centers to improve access to care and address social determinants of health among the residents they serve. An RFP will be available soon.