For 10 years, Georgia state leaders have blocked access to affordable health coverage via Medicaid to almost 600,000 Georgians, Knetta Adkins with Georgians for a Healthy Future said last month.
Last month, GHF’s Board of Directors and staff launched our new 2022-2026 strategic plan–an ambitious blue print for our next four years as an organization. Guided by this living document, GHF will deepen our focus on health equity; champion community-led change; build a healthy, resilient organization; and lead advocacy to strengthen Georgia’s public health systems and workforce.
In a series of four blogs, GHF’s Executive Director Laura Colbert spotlights each of our new strategic goals. First up: health equity!
Strategic Goal #1: GHF is recognized as a leading statewide organization working to advance health equity.
During GHF’s strategic planning process, key informants, board members, and staff responded to questions about how our organization could have the greatest impact on the health and well-being of Georgians. Their responses were clear: focus on drivers of racial disparities and health inequities.
It is widely documented that Black and Brown Americans experience worse health outcomes than their white counterparts. This pattern holds true in Georgia and, in many ways, disparities in our state are deeper because of long-standing systemic inequities. Georgia’s refusal to expand Medicaid, and the increased likelihood that communities of color live next to industrial, landfill, or other unhealthy sites are just two examples that we grapple with regularly.
Black communities in Georgia experience HIV, maternal death, preterm birth, and many chronic diseases (diabetes, asthma, cancers, etc.) at higher rates than Georgians of other races and ethnicities. Black and Hispanic children in Georgia are also more likely to live in poverty than their white counterparts. COVID-19 and the movement for racial justice that swelled in 2020 simultaneously spotlighted these disparities for many Americans who previously had not given the gaps any attention. Such racial disparities are driven by systemic racism and disinvestment by our public and private sectors.
It is also well documented that people living in rural areas tend to be older, less healthy, and have less wealth than their counterparts in non-rural areas. In Georgia, rural communities are losing population while the population in urban areas is increasing. This trend brings with it many troubling trends for rural communities—exits of businesses and employers; hospitals and doctors’ offices closing their doors; and scarcities of services like grocery stores, broadband internet, or ambulances. The resulting disinvestment mirrors similar trends in communities of color.
While stereotypes of rural areas bring to mind mostly white people, many rural Georgia residents and communities are also people and communities of color. The intersection of geography and race intensifies the excess health disparities that they experience.
The imperative delivered by the key informants of our strategic plan and the compelling case that this data makes shaped GHF’s first strategic goal—to become a leading organization advancing health equity for all Georgians.
While some of GHF’s work already promotes health equity, we recognized that we could be more consistent and intentional about centering it in our advocacy, partnerships, internal operations, and other aspects of our work. To achieve this aim, we began with these three commitments:
- To consistently examine data to identify disparities in the health and well-being of Georgians based on race, geography, income, and other social and demographic factors. If we cannot name which Georgians are most helped or most harmed by current policies or changes to policy and law, GHF will fail to advocate for real solutions. Failures to effect change that works for the people most impacted comes with the risk that we actually worsen disparities. We cannot take those risks. Our commitment to identify disparities includes a promise to publicly articulate the health gaps that we find so that communities, advocates, policy- and lawmakers, and the media develop shared understandings of our state’s deepest health needs.
- To prioritize advocacy for policies that most reduce racial health disparities (and against policies that will widen existing gaps). Many bills and policy changes are regularly put forward that attempt to solve real problems in our health coverage, health care, or public health systems but fail to address the root causes or assist those most impacted. It is easy to get distracted by shallow fixes and claim that real progress has been made, when in fact the problem remains and disadvantaged Georgians are left even farther behind. GHF’s commitment is to reserve our time, talents, and resources for the advocacy initiatives that most meaningfully reduce disparities and strengthen marginalized communities.
- To embed diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of GHF’s internal policies and practices. GHF recognizes equity as an active practice that our organization must exercise every day. From personnel policies to internal decision making processes to vendor selection to fundraising practices, GHF will examine our internal workings for opportunities to apply equity.
The GHF board and staff expect that our work towards becoming a leading contributor to health equity efforts in our state will be challenging and constant. Our team will measure our progress towards these objectives in quantitative and qualitative ways. We welcome your feedback as well, based on what you observe as a partner, supporter, and Georgian. As we succeed, fall short, and learn along the way, we will share our progress with all of you.
 America’s Health Rankings, Georgia, 2021.
 America’s Health Rankings, Georgia, 2021.
 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2021
 Rural Health Information Hub. Accessed at https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/rural-health-disparities.