In an effort to reduce health disparities in the state, the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission (MCHRC) issued a request for proposals (RFP) on Oct. 12 to determine the awardees of its $13 million Pathways to Health Equity grant program. The Commission is launching public outreach meetings this month and next to spread awareness of the grant opportunity to various agencies before the application deadline on Dec. 7.
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The $13 million in funding was made available by the Maryland Health Equity Resource Act (MHERA) under HB0463 during the 2021 legislative session and will be distributed over a two year period. Additionally, a second program under MHERA, called Health Equity Resource Communities (HERC), will issue five-year grants to support longer-term solutions based on social determinants of health (SDOH) such as housing and food security.
U.S. Rep. and former state Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown expressed the need to address health disparities in the state during the Commission’s forum on Thursday.
“These disparities, we know, didn’t materialize overnight. They’re systemic — from access, diagnosis, and treatment — communities of color and underserved communities have faced really unacceptable barriers to care. This has resulted in poor or worse health outcomes and higher health care costs, not only in those communities, but throughout the state of Maryland. The status quo is unacceptable, and the Maryland Health Equity Resource Act, which I’m so excited about, is an important step forward to address health disparities in our state.”
The 2021 Health Disparities Report from America’s Health Rankings found that in 2017-2019, 40% of Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native adults in Maryland had a “high health status,” compared to 60% of white adults. Additionally, food insecurity has increased by 55% over the last decade for households headed by an adult with some college education.
COVID-19-related health disparities are also evident in the state. According to state data, nearly one in five cases in the state have occurred in Prince George’s County, whose population is 64.4% Black.
The grant program is not the state’s first attempt at improving health equity metrics. During his tenure as Lt. Gov, Brown helped establish a pilot program that increased access to affordable health care for underserved communities. The result was a reduction in 18,000 hospitalizations and over $100 million in health care costs, according to Brown.
Applications for the upcoming grant must have initiatives that address five policy objectives:
- Reduce health disparities, defined by MHERA as “a particular type of health difference,” including heart disease, maternal mortality, substance abuse and mental health disorders
- Improve health outcomes
- Improve access to primary care
- Promote primary and secondary preventions services
- Reduce health care costs, hospital admissions, and re-admissions
However, MEHRA states that applicants have the flexibility to draft proposals that best address the needs of the particular communities they serve, if they would like to address health disparities not already included in the general guidelines.
Proposals must also serve a particular geographical area that has a minimum population of 5,000 and measurable health disparities. To assist applicants with determining the reach of their proposals, the Commission partnered with the Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients (CRISP), Maryland’s health information exchange, in providing a searchable database of health disparities broken down by zip code in the state. The databases are publicly available on the Commission website under “Call for Proposals.”
Mark Luckner, the Commission’s executive director, identified ideal entities that can apply for the grants, including non-profit community based organizations and hospitals, higher education institutes and particularly historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU), federally qualified health centers, or local health departments.
To continue spreading awareness of the grant program and conversations on health equity, the Commission will host a series of in-person and virtual forums across the state. Grant applications are due by Dec. 7, and the Commission will determine awards in early Feb. 2022.