Maryland health organizations share visions for equitable, community-based care

February will mark the end of a five-month process in which the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission (MCHRC) will distribute $13 million in funding for health equity-based initiatives. 

Forty organizations across the state submitted applications to MCHRC’s Pathways to Health Equity Call for Proposals in December—including local health departments, hospitals, and non-profit organizations. To secure the two-year funding, each applicant must demonstrate how they will work to reduce health disparities in areas with underserved communities. To ensure their work will impact target communities, applicants identified the specific zip codes they will serve, including Health Enterprise Zones (HEZ), or zip codes with established health disparities. 

 

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The grant program provides an opportunity for Maryland to craft initiatives specifically attuned to a community’s unique health needs. These hyperlocal health campaigns, according to Dr. Stephen Thomas, director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity (M-CHE), are key to closing health disparities in the state. 

One such strategy includes implicit bias training, according to Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland, a coalition under MedChi, the Maryland State Medical Society. McIntosh helped draft the organization’s application for over $500,000 in grant funding. 

According to McIntosh, the funds, which would be directed towards MedChi’s Center for a Healthy Maryland, will work with Thomas and M-CHE to develop implicit bias training for health care practitioners. 

“When I say practitioners, I mean doctors, nurses, community health workers—anybody who’s in that health care sphere,” McIntosh said. “[The training would help] to remove bias, identify implicit bias within their own thinking, and how to address and develop empathy and develop the skills needed to communicate with different communities, [such as] communities of color, transgender communities, and any community that they’re interacting with.”

The training would follow the groundwork laid last legislative session when House Bill 28, co-sponsored by Dels. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D – Anne Arundel) and Robbyn Lewis (D – Baltimore City), passed. The bill, which went into effect last October, requires the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities to “identify and approve certain implicit bias training programs.”

McIntosh says their curriculum would follow a bias training model already in place for researchers, which she says has been “really effective” thus far. 

The MCHRC funding could also potentially support health equity measures at local federally-qualified health centers, a goal the Pride Center of Maryland (PCOM) outlined in its $1.05 million grant application. PCOM is a Baltimore City-based non-profit organization that supports Maryland’s under or unserved sexual and gender minority (SGM) popoulations. 

With the funding, PCOM’s initiatives include outreach and education, strategies to improve coordination and communication across its health care provider organizations, and a community advisory board, according to a statement from Interim Executive Director Dr. Cleo Manago.

With the involvement of our partners, PCOM’s Pathways to Health Equity Alliance (PHEA) project includes a focus on the expansion of a local FQHC’s capacity and reach to local, under or unserved sexual and gender minority (SGM) populations, and will improve the delivery of health care services through partner training, involvement, and input,” said Manago in a statement. 

MCHRC is currently reviewing applications and will select top-scoring candidates. In early February, final candidates will have an opportunity to present their projects to the Commission, followed by the grant awards.