Health equity exists when all people have a fair and just opportunity to be healthy, especially those who have experienced socioeconomic disadvantage, historical injustice, and other avoidable systemic inequalities that are often associated with social categories of race, gender, ethnicity, social position, sexual orientation and disability.
Health is shaped by where we live, learn, work and play. Some people in Vermont have more opportunities than others to enjoy good health and a high quality of life. Vermonters who identify as white and heterosexual, who are able-bodied, live in urban or suburban areas, or are middle or upper class generally have better health compared to other Vermonters. These are health inequities and together with our partners we are committed to addressing them.
Health equity is one of the goals of our Strategic Plan 2014-2018 and a cornerstone of our 2018 State Health Assessment and State Health Improvement Plan.
According to Healthy People 2020, health equity is defined as "the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing societal efforts to address avoidable inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices, and the elimination of health and health care disparities."
Not everyone in Vermont has equal access to the conditions that favor health. Some people live in areas where there aren’t many doctors or dentists and have to travel greater distances for care. Some live in areas where it’s hard to access healthy food or where it’s not safe to take a walk. Some face prejudice or discrimination because of the color of their skin, their gender, sexuality, gender identity, age, country of origin, socioeconomic status, geography, or for having a disability. These conditions or characteristics can affect a person's ability to lead a healthy life – and can result in health disparities, or unequal health outcomes – based on their group membership.
By viewing public health through a health equity lens, we are more likely to reach the people and communities most in need of our support.
Working toward Health Equity for All Vermonters
We strive to consider health equity in our work throughout the Health Department. This work is organized around the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care. These are usually called the CLAS Standards. Here are the principles that guide our work:
We work to make sure that all Vermonters can access written and verbal information from the Health Department in a way that ensures optimal communication – whether through the use of translations, interpreters, or through writing in plain language – and adheres to federal requirements concerning translation and interpretation.
Print and video information in English plus a number of other languages spoken in Vermont are available on our website – Translated Information
We work with Health Department staff and partners to help them become more knowledgeable and aware of the roles of privilege and bias in health and health care, and support them in practicing cultural humility.
We strive to build a diverse and inclusive workforce. To create and sustain a healthier Vermont, we must honor the cultures, beliefs and values of those we serve. We work to foster an environment of mutual respect, acceptance and equal opportunity. We are committed to building and maintaining a multicultural and diverse workforce that reflects the populations we serve in our communities.
We consider determinants of health and equity in all major plans and projects within the Health Department. We consider measures of health disparities in benchmarks and evaluation:
- Health Department Strategic Plan 2014-2018
- Healthy Vermonters 2020
- Midway to 2020 Report Card
- State Health Improvement Plan
- Vermont Social Vulnerability Index
We also track the determinants of health and equity in the Determinants of Health and Equity Scorecard.
We work with communities across the state on the health equity issues that matter to them. We know that community members bring unique knowledge and we value working with them to support community health. This is an important part of the work of our 12 Local Health Offices.
To reduce health disparities and ultimately improve health equity we collect and analyze data on the diversity of Vermonters. This way we know what we are doing well and where we have room for improvement.
We collect diversity data in much of our other work, including in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, the Adult Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System.
- Think Cultural Health – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health
- National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities
- American Public Health Association: Health Equity
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: Minority Health
- Association of State & Territorial Health Officials