Inside NHPHA: A Monthly Column Written by NHPHA Leadership: COVID-19 Equity Task Force Happenings

written by Joan Ascheim, MSN, Executive Director, NHPHA; Kirsten Durzy, MPH, Evaluator, NH Division of Public Health Services; Trinidad Tellez, MD, Director, NH Office of Health Equity

We have previously reported on the establishment and activities of the New Hampshire COVID-19 Equity Task Force and want to keep you up-to-date. The New Hampshire Public Health Association (NHPHA), in partnership with the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office of Health Equity and Division of Public Health Services, continues to co-convene The New Hampshire COVID-19 Equity Task Force. The task force is a collective of over 50 individuals and organizations across NH representing multiple sectors and communities that has come together to address issues of equity arising from the COVID-19 pandemic and response. This is intended to broaden the network of people/organizations so we may support each other more intentionally and strategically, not to supersede or duplicate existing efforts, and to identify any needed advocacy that some of the partner organizations may be able to pursue when we form a broader coalition.

Welcome to Our New Coordinator Udayaraga Devineni!

We are delighted to report that the task force now has a coordinator who can bolster its work. Please welcome Udayaraga Devineni, or Raaga, as the COVID-19 Equity Task Force Coordinator. Raaga is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a Master of Fine Arts in Community Social Psychology and Social Justice. Raaga brings a strong passion relative to equity, diversity and inclusion to the position. She has met with each of the seven subgroups of the task force to become familiar with their identified needs and priorities. Raaga has hit the ground running and will assist the work groups to address their selected actions.

Task Force Accomplishments and Actions

The COVID-19 Equity Task Force initially convened on March 27 and now meets every two weeks with close to 60 individuals consistently participating and new participants joining weekly. Seven workgroups continue to meet to address the following areas of concern: concerns related to immigrants, digital divide and education, food insecurity, housing insecurity and homelessness, justice involved/incarceration/detention, mental health and substance use, and older adults and people with disabilities. Recently the task force:

  • Wrote letters to the congressional delegation voicing concerns relative to COVID-19 for residents in correctional facilities and for immigrants detained in correctional facilities by ICE.
  • Submitted an op-ed also on issues relative to incarcerated individuals and the risk of COVID-19, the need for housing for those leaving correctional facilities, and the cross-sectionality of race, incarceration, housing and COVID-19.
  • Sent a letter to the governor sharing concerns about equity in education and the digital divide in the wake of COVID-19.
  • Wrote to the congressional delegation regarding food policy changes that could be made at the federal level to address food insecurity during COVID-19.
  • Hosted staff from the four offices of our congressional delegation at a task force meeting to share concerns from each of the seven groups.
  • Submitted a letter to the governor airing concerns about the lack of affordable and accessible recovery housing for those in the recovery community.

The congressional delegation has been extremely responsive and has quickly followed through by providing information and informing us of actions they have taken relative to our questions and recommendations. Senator Hassan invited members of the task force, the Governor’s Equity Response Team, and other public health leaders to a roundtable discussion about racial and ethnic disparities relative to COVID.

Governor’s COVID-19 Equity Response Team’s Initial Report and Recommendations

Our Equity Task Force co-conveners, Kirsten Durzy, MPH, and Trinidad Tellez, MD, joined with three other people to form the Governor’s COVID-19 Equity Response Team: Bobbie D. Bagley, MS, MPH, RN, CPH, Director, Division of Public Health & Community Services, City of Nashua; Rogers Johnson, MHP, President Seacoast NAACP, Chair of Governors Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion; and Dottie Morris, PhD, Associate Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion, Keene State College. Chaired by Dr. Tellez, the team had 30 days to produce a report with achievable steps for the state and other stakeholders to consider undertaking to remedy the disparate impact of COVID-19, which is likely to be a public health concern for months, if not years to come. Recommendations of the COVID-19 Equity Task Force were considered in the drafting of the report.

Some of the recommendations highlighted by the governor as “currently underway, or are achievable and can be implemented in some manner in the near future,” include:

  • Robust disparity data dashboards
  • Increase community testing
  • Assure testing sites have written protocols for community outreach and demographic identifier data
  • Conduct Equity Review Analyses
  • Assure healthy food access
  • Create communication channels to hear community voices
  • Deploy COVID-19 Response Community Health Workers
  • Provide isolation and quarantine housing support

A copy of the initial report can be found here.

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