- Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Media Contact for Healey-Driscoll Administration Lays out Plan for Health Equity Initiative
Cecille Joan Avila, Media Relations Manager
BOSTON — As part of Governor Healey’s ongoing commitment to regional and racial equity, the Healey-Driscoll Administration today laid out its plan for Advancing Health Equity in Massachusetts (AHEM), an initiative to eliminate racial, economic, and regional disparities in health outcomes. Led by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh and Undersecretary for Health Dr. Kiame Mahaniah, the initiative will engage agencies and stakeholders from across the state in reworking the systems that lead to poor outcomes for vulnerable communities. Secretary Walsh and Dr. Mahaniah detailed these plans today at an event in Boston hosted by the Health Equity Compact and State House News Service.
The first year of AHEM will have two primary focuses: maternal health and social determinants of health. Building on the July 2023 Department of Public Health (DPH) report that revealed major inequities in unexpected labor and delivery complications, AHEM will examine maternal health and how to improve outcomes for mothers and infants in the period before, during, and after birth. AHEM will also examine the living conditions and societal structures that make a person more vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiometabolic diseases – the leading cause of death in Massachusetts.
“Massachusetts leads the country in health care and life sciences, but too many communities in our state still struggle to access high-quality, affordable care,” said Governor Maura Healey. “The results of these gaps are devastating. Throughout our state, people of color and people with disabilities experience higher rates of chronic illness, high blood pressure, and severe health complications. This cannot continue. We’re taking on this effort to save lives and improve quality of life.”
“There are so many economic, social, and environmental factors that play a role in people’s health. Many of them – like food insecurity, unclean air, lack of housing, and unequal access to care – disproportionately impact communities of color and other vulnerable populations,” said Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll. “Advancing health equity doesn’t just mean making changes to the health care system. With this initiative, we’re going to take on the social drivers that caused these disparities in the first place.”
In addition to statewide health equity work, including the implementation of the MassHealth Equity Incentive Program and MassHealth doula benefits, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) will pilot innovative strategies in the ten areas of the state with the most extreme health disparities. These priority locations will serve as a starting point for initial targeted efforts that will later serve as a model for interventions statewide.
Using the recommendations laid out in the Department of Public Health (DPH) Review of Maternal Health Access as a guide, the AHEM team will work closely with community members and health equity leaders to identify immediate actions with the greatest impact. These interventions will involve all 11 agencies within EOHHS and the MassHealth program, as well as partners across the Administration. By using this Administration-wide approach, AHEM will get to the root of the economic, social, and environmental factors that lead to and worsen pregnancy complications and heart disease.
“In our country, your zip code is more predictive of your life expectancy than your genetic code. To address health disparities, we have to focus our efforts where these disparities are most profound,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh. “By engaging with those communities, we are building a foundation of equity that we can build upon across the Commonwealth. Our Administration is relentlessly focused on improving the health of families and people in every zip code in our state.”
“Over the past year, DPH has published several reports showing that the effects of structurally supported inequities can be deadly. Far too many vulnerable Massachusetts residents have lost their lives because they can’t access the available services and supports they need,” said Undersecretary for Health Dr. Kiame Mahaniah. “Through AHEM, we want to make having a baby in Massachusetts a safe and wonderful experience for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income. We want to prevent heart attacks and strokes caused by a lifetime of stressful living under inescapable inequities. We want to protect low-income residents from disproportionally bearing the impacts of climate change. Our ultimate measure will be closing the racial gap in life expectancy.”
In July 2023, the Department of Public Health (DPH) released a first-of-its-kind report revealing that rates of Severe Maternal Morbidity (SMM) had nearly doubled over the last decade. These complications disproportionately impacted Black individuals and people with disabilities. Following that report, Governor Healey called for a comprehensive review of maternity services across the state to ensure equitable resources statewide. The Governor also called for a regional access review to address regional disparities in access to care, which is a critical part of health equity.
Also in summer 2023, DPH reported a record-high number of opioid-related overdose deaths in 2022, with Black residents accounting for the largest increase in deaths from 2021-2022. The resulting reports recommended several next steps in the evolution of equitable care in Massachusetts. The Department of Public Health noted the particular challenges that rural areas face, including staffing and transportation, and recommended a focus on improved community engagement, more innovative service delivery, workforce investments and more. The recommendations included in these reports are informing the work of AHEM.
For more information on Advancing Health Equity in Massachusetts, visit mass.gov/HealthEquity.