How Vanderbilt is Working to Bring More Equity to Healthcare System

Vanderbilt University Health Equality Center

Vanderbilt University Health Equality Center (VUHEC) is creating more awareness of their existence and their work to bring more equity to the healthcare system in Davidson, Williamson, and Rutherford Counties.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) created the VUHEC in 2019, with the goal to connect existing -community health and health equity initiatives from across their organization while scaling system-wide efforts to identify and address disparities in health. The model for the new office of Health Equity stemmed from an initiative of the Association of American Medical Colleges in which VUMC was one of eight institutions selected to understand how academic medical centers can influence and improve population
and community health by making health care safer and more equitable according to their website.

The pandemic hastened the exposure of the harsh realities of health inequities, and VUHEC has begun working with health organizations in Davidson, Williamson, and Rutherford Counties – the counties from which most of their patients reside – to address socioeconomic and racial disparities and how they impact health.

Before the pandemic, the organization completed a Community Health Needs Assessment for the three counties they impact the most. The assessment states that it “sought to better understand community concerns related to health and health care, the social, environmental and behavioral factors that impact health, the greatest needs and assets in communities, and strategies for improving community health and well-being – with a focus on the underserved, low-income and minority populations.”

Using information from this health assessment, and information acquired from a Racial Equality Task Force that was formed in July 2020 by Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM), the VUHEC has a vast amount of information they can use to bring to their goal of “coordinating and catalyzing health equality initiatives at VUMC and in the communities that they serve” according to their website. Their Community Health Improvement team collaborates with individual community members, local health departments, non-profit organizations, and
external health systems to adequately assess the needs of their partner counties.

Initially, their focus was on supporting healthy lifestyles for underserved children and seniors, but the pandemic has brought sharp focus to the financial inequities suffered by African-Americans, Hispanics, and those without high school diplomas. These groups have issues with affordable housing and food insecurities as well as health issues.

One of the main things they are doing is making COVID-19 vaccine shots available to all. The general public can sign up to receive the vaccine from VUMC here.

They will also be funding Health Improvement mini-grants in various communities. The grants of up to $7,500 will focus on mental health and substance abuse, access to resources and services, basic needs, and prevention and health education. The grants will also address impacts from recent tornados, impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, and racial justice and equality. Programming should be announced soon.

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