Health Equity — what does it mean?

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 non-disabled, 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 2014-2019 and a cornerstone of our 2018 State Health Assessment and State Health Improvement Plan. Learn more about the Health Equity Capacity Building Program's funding opportunity in our work to reduce health disparities through community partnerships and capacity-building support.

Three pictures describing Equality, Equity and Justice

Our Work

What is health equity?

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.

Community engagement - health equity capacity building program

We work with communities across the state on the health issues that matter to them. We know that community members bring unique knowledge and abilities to support health. This is an important part of the work of our 12 local health offices.

We must also do more to build relationships with communities that experience the greatest inequities. This is a goal in our State Health Improvement Plan.  

Community Organizations Receiving Funding for Health Equity Capacity Building Grants

Funding has been made available for community-based organizations that are working to address health disparities in Vermont. Through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Vermont Department of Health has established a Health Equity Capacity Building Program that, in partnership with the Vermont Community Foundation, provides financial and technical support opportunities for community organizations to build their program capacity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on health inequities across the country as well as here in Vermont,” said Deputy Health Commissioner Kelly Dougherty. “We learned many lessons and forged important, new partnerships to support under-resourced communities. These grants and the expertise of the Vermont Community Foundation create an unprecedented opportunity to provide communities with significant resources to address health equity.”

The Health Department has identified reducing health disparities and promoting health equity as fundamental priorities, and the state of Vermont has declared racism to be a public health emergency. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, community-based organizations have been key to effectively reaching populations who are at higher risk as well as those who have been historically underserved. The Health Equity Capacity Building program incorporates lessons learned from efforts to protect and promote the health of Vermonters who have experienced socioeconomic disadvantage, historical injustice, and systemic racism.  

The Department of Health is awarding the Health Equity Capacity Building grants — expected to be in amounts of at least $25,000, with an average of $150,000. The Vermont Community Foundation is supporting the program as a facilitator of the application and technical assistance process.

In addition, through this process, the Vermont Community Foundation will provide opportunities for technical assistance to organizations for building their capacity and infrastructure to meet the requirements to receive federal funds. Those applications were accepted on a rolling basis starting on June 1, 2022. The application process is now closed. 

Find out what grantees are working on

For more information, please visit

Health Equity Integration community equity grantees summary
Abenaki Helping Abenaki   
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Nulhegan and Elnu tribes of the Abenaki Nation's continue to work together on various projects to help their citizens recover from the damages caused by COVID, and to improve physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Aging in Hartland  
  • Project Reach: Windsor County
  • Project Description: Aging in Hartland connect residents aged 60 plus (about one third of our population) to resources to help them continue to find meaning, connection, and support services as they age in their own homes in a community they love. Our served population is seniors living in a rural area, some of whom have disabilities, insecure housing, and/or poverty. 
All Brains Belong VT 
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Expand access to health service and community connection for Vermonters with Disabilities. Neurodivergent people with disabilities have higher rates of COVID complications, death, and barriers to care. All Brains Belong seeks to serve more clients, add a resource coordinator, and provide community-wide training
Bi-State Primary Care Association 
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Bi-State Primary Care Association (Bi-State) supports the FQHCs and other safety-net providers with training and technical assistance. FQHCs have expressed the desire for training and resources to support the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) work. Through this funding opportunity, Bi-State will increase and enhance JEDI training and resources to FQHCs.
Come Alive Outside 
  • Project Reach: Rutland County
  • Project Description: Come Alive Outside aims to increase inclusion, access, and equity outdoors for underserved populations who face the highest health inequities. The organization seeks to support capacity to enhance community outreach and customized outdoor wellness programs with priority populations.
Conscious Homestead 
  • Fiscal Sponsor: Community Resilience Organizations
  • Project Reach: Chittenden County
  • Project Description: Conscious Homestead is a BIPOC-led community care network across unceded Abenaki lands in Vermont. Together, the organization practices being givers and/or receivers of care. They center Indigenous wisdom and provide healing offerings from their hearts to one another in racial affinity.
Greater Falls Connections  
  • Fiscal Sponsor: Health Care Rehabilitation Services
  • Project Reach: Windham County
  • Project Description: Greater Falls Connections and Friends for Change continue to expand their trauma-transformed initiatives to empower historically marginalized families in culturally relevant healing, restoring dignity, and centering their vision of community and belonging.
Inner Space 
  • Fiscal Sponsor: United Way of Northwestern Vermont
  • Project Reach: Chittenden County
  • Project Description: Inner Space is a health serving organization for people who have experienced systemic oppression and all those furthest from justice. The organization takes an interdisciplinary team approach to client treatment by bringing allopathic, ancestral, and communal medicine together under one roof.
Janet S Munt Family Room  
  • Project Reach: Chittenden County
  • Project Description: A Parent Child Center located in the Old North End (ONE) of Burlington primarily supporting under-served populations. The organization’s serves to provide a space that builds healthy, connected communities by supporting families and young children ages prenatal to 5 years old.
Maquam Bay of Missisquoi 
  • Project Reach: Franklin County
  • Project Description: The Maquam Bay of Missisquoi, Inc. currently provides programming through an onsite food pantry, domestic violence programs, and COVID-focused programming. The organization continues to enhance health and wellness programming necessary for enhancing community health and wellness including training and technical assistance for office technology and creating culturally appropriate promotional materials.
Open Door Clinic 
  • Project Reach: Addison County
  • Project Description: Open Door Clinic continues to be highly involved in managing local outbreaks on farms and orchards through educating, testing, and enhancing language access through the arc of their illnesses. Funding under this grant agreement will continue to support those initiatives and expand their model of care by expanding access to health and communication services. 
Orleans County Restorative Justice Center 
  • Fiscal Sponsor: Northeast Kingdom Learning Services
  • Project Reach: Orleans County
  • Project Description: Orleans County Restorative Justice Center will build capacity in regional organizations and agencies, to further understand and include justice involved families/ individuals in health planning, delivery, and outreach in Orleans-N. Essex counties. The organization strives to combine practical work with navigation and advocacy.
Out in the Open 
  • Project Reach: Windham County
  • Project Description: Out in the Open continues to expand their Health Equity & Access for Rural TLGBQ+ (HEART) Program. HEART is a peer health advocacy program aimed at improving health outcomes, including COVID and COVID recovery, for rural transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer Vermonters.
Outright Vermont 
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Outright will continue to connect LGBTQ+ youth across Vermont to joyful, affirming, accessible support by: launching a new online learning platform; developing a 3-year strategic plan; and adding development, education, and administrative staff.
Pride Center of Vermont 
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Pride Center of Vermont (PCVT) seeks to address the health needs of Vermont’s LGBTQ+ Communities by building strong a network of Healthcare Providers and empowering LGBTQ+ Queer to peer health skill sharing.
Social Tinkering 
  • Project Reach: Rutland County, Statewide
  • Project Description: Social Tinkering will continue to engage in strategic planning and the hiring of a grant writer to bring our Rutland County Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) framework to a statewide level.
Sunrise Family Resource Center  
  • Project Reach: Bennington County
  • Project Description: Sunrise Family Resource Center continues to support families in achieving transportation independence. Addressing systematic and socioeconomic barrier to transportation access will empower families to fully participate in their lives and community, while generating a multi-generational impact.
  • Project Reach: Windham County
  • Project Description: SUSU CommUNITY Farm stives to build a network upon the stolen Abenaki land, known as Vermont, where Brown, Black and nonhuman kin can coexist in peace, love and rest. The organization continues to teach, nourish, grow healthy foods, heal in commUNITY, and care for each other. Through this partnership, the organization will enhance their nonprofit management, operating, and financial management systems.
The Root Social Justice Center 
  • Project Reach: Windham County
  • Project Description: The Root Social Justice Center will enhance a healing and wellness series while developing health-related resources and supports to meet the self-identified needs of the BIPOC community, including those who identify as LGBTQIA+, in and around Brattleboro, VT.
United Way of Lamoille County 
  • Project Reach: Lamoille County
  • Project Description: United Way of Lamoille County continues to enhance their services through The Lamoille County Mobile Rural Resource Navigator initiative. The project optimizes the use of local resources to reduce barriers to healthcare, employment, and community involvement.
United Way of Windham County 
  • Project Reach: Windham County
  • Project Description: Windham County has a population of 80 newly arrived Afghan refugees, which will swell to 100 by the end of 2022, and a growing population of asylum seekers that are fleeing systemic violence and oppression. Dental care remains one of the most prevalent unmet health needs – particularly amongst BIPOC Vermonters, to include refugee and asylum-seekers. By addressing preventative and therapeutic dental services for this population in Windham County, with focused attention on the social determinants of health, United Way of Windham County is renewing the social contract for health of all neighbors.
Vermont CARES  
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Vermont CARES is a 35-year-old AIDS Service Organization. The organization provides life-saving harm reduction services, education and resources to Vermonters affected by HIV, Hepatitis C and substance use by increasing access to care, reducing social stigmas, and building relationships.  The funded project will support the organization’s financial management systems, building up a foundation needed to improve financial stability and future.
Vermont Cultural Brokering Program 
  • Fiscal Sponsor: Spectrum Youth and Family Services
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Since 2014 The VT Cultural Brokering Program has been training and employing refugee and immigrant community members as Cultural Brokers who conduct outreach, screenings, interventions, and referrals for members of specific communities. The overarching aim of the Cultural Broker program is to provide “…integrated and early intervention services to Vermont’s refugee and immigrant communities to improve health equity amongst those communities.”
Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council 
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: The VT Developmental Disabilities Council will continue to lead the Inclusive Healthcare Partnership Project in partnership with Green Mountain Self-Advocates. The project aims to improve health literacy among adults with developmental disabilities and increasing provider confidence in delivering healthcare to this population.
Vermont Health Equity Initiative 
  • Fiscal Sponsor: VT Professionals of Color Network
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: VT Health Equity Initiative strives to identify, bring clarity to, and address mental health disparities. The organization will achieve this by elevating local stories, measuring and sharing critical data, unifying institutions, community organizations, and local leaders under a common goal to improve BIPOC mental health.
Vermont Language Justice Project 
  • Fiscal Sponsor: Chittenden Community Television
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: Vermont Language Justice Project expands language justice in Vermont through partnerships, technical assistance and the regular production and distribution of essential public health information in audio/video formats 15 languages for English Language Learners in Vermont.
Vermont Racial Justice Alliance  
  • Fiscal Sponsor: Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission
  • Project Reach: Chittenden County
  • Project Description: VT Racial Justice Alliance continues to enhance health equity through the eradication of systemic racism in the health system and social determinants of health. The organization expands programs and services to marginalized communities where otherwise historically ineffective or nonexistent and creates new, equitable systems that provide access to opportunity.
Vermont Psychiatric Survivors, Inc. 
  • Project Reach: Statewide
  • Project Description: VT Psychiatric Survivors is a statewide mutual support and civil rights advocacy organization run by and for psychiatric survivors. The organization will work with consultants to facilitate development of a strategic plan, build capacity for grant writing, build sustainable programming for staff, and educate health providers on bias and health equity.
Winooski Parents & Students Project  
  • Fiscal Sponsor: The Peace and Justice Center
  • Project Reach: Chittenden County
  • Project Description: The Winooski Parents & Students Project (WPS) is an initiative of a community-based project led by immigrants and refugees who serve their own communities by promoting civic engagement, advocacy in educational policy, socio-economic and systematic reform. Marginalized, underserved, underrepresented, and low-income community members with various ethnic backgrounds gain leadership skills through community organizing, capacity building programs, empowerment/educational trainings, leadership and management positions while making changes in their local and socio-economic systems in Winooski, Vermont.
Winooski Valley Park District 
  • Project Reach: Chittenden County
  • Project Description: Winooski Valley Park District continues to enhance Vermont Indigenous Community Wellness through biocultural revival and restoration at the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center. The project will enhance program outreach and the first phase of a wellness trail at the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center in Burlington.
Cultural humility

We create opportunities for staff and partners to critically analyze beliefs and systems so that we can provide services that are respectful, trauma-informed, and culturally- and linguistically-appropriate. Our Office of Health Equity provides training and technical assistance to support this work throughout the department.

Culturally and linguistically appropriate care

One way to advance health equity is to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services. We integrate the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Healthcare (CLAS Standards) in our work across the Department.

Reflect and respect diversity

To successfully create opportunities for health it is important for our workforce to reflect the diversity of our communities and for our workplace culture to value everyone’s different life experiences. This culture of mutual respect and acceptance increases job satisfaction as well as programmatic success.

We promote affirmative hiring and incorporate strategies for affirmative recruitment in our hiring guide.

Plan, track and evaluate

In 2017 we made the choice to incorporate health equity into our State Health Assessment and State Health Improvement Plan. These plans guide the health priorities of the department and our partners across the state. We aimed to focus on equity throughout the process of developing these documents, including in the questions we asked, partners and individuals who participated in the development process, and data we examined.

We look at health equity in our health tracking plans and tools:

We also track determinants of health and equity in the Determinants of Health and Equity Scorecard.

Language access, interpretation and translation

We aim for information from the Health Department to be accessible to everyone living in Vermont. Sometimes this means we translate documents or write using plain language. Other times it means thinking about who is delivering information, the format the communication takes, or where a meeting takes place.

Print and video information in English and a number of other languages spoken in Vermont are available on our website – Translated Information

Monitor health disparities

We collect and analyze data on the diversity of Vermonters. This includes data on gender identity, race, sexual identity, and income. This way we know what we are doing well and where we have room for improvement.

We also work with our staff and partners to collect data about social conditions, such as access to transportation, housing conditions, and employment since we know these contribute to health. Some of the ways we monitor this data includes:

Monitoring Health Disparities and Inequities 

We collect and analyze data on the diversity of Vermonters. This includes data on gender identity, race, sexual identity, and income. This way we know what we are doing well and where we have room for improvement. 

We also work with our staff and partners to collect data about social conditions, such as access to transportation, housing conditions, and employment since we know these contribute to health. Some of the ways we monitor this data includes: 

Current Efforts within VDH (partial list): 

  • STRETCH (Strategies to Repair Equity and Transform Community Health) Initiative  
  • Community Engagement Guide (in development)
  • Equity Assessment tools (in development) 
  • Affirmative recruitment and hiring practices 
  • Vermont Social Vulnerability Index
  • Internal trainings/workshops (e.g. Disability Allyship, Power-sharing)
  • Language access plan