May 06, 2022

We Are Focused on Equity

Lauren R. Powell, MPA, PHD


Lauren Powell is the Vice President of US Health Equity and Community Wellness at Takeda and the President and CEO of Equitist, which aims to disrupt the status quo in public health and healthcare. In 2017, Powell was named the youngest-ever Director of Health Equity for Virginia. She is the Co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development.

The National Consortium for Public Health Workforce Development’s mission is to strengthen and support the public health workforce to achieve our vision of a nation in which everyone is able to thrive. But we know we won’t make this vision a reality if we don’t center health equity in everything we do as a consortium.

The past two years have shown us that the jobs we do, the housing in which we live, and the resources we can access have directly affected whether we have been exposed to COVID-19, have been able to protect our families from infection, have received adequate care when we were suffering, and — ultimately — if we lived or died.

Unfortunately, personal choice doesn’t always determine where we live or work; rather, policies built on centuries of racism do.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and 1.7 times more likely to die of the infection than white people. Hispanic people are 2.4 times more likely to be hospitalized and 1.9 times more likely to die, and Native American people are 3.2 times more likely to be hospitalized and 2.2 times more likely to die.

These dire statistics are not due to race; they are due to racism.

I brought this awareness and understanding to my role as Steering Committee Co-Chair and to the deliberative process we undertook to define how we would focus the work of the National Consortium in the pursuit of our mission.

It was a process that entailed defining the problems we sought to solve and assessing our collective strengths, abilities, and assets so we could determine our unique role in developing and implementing solutions. It involved identifying the segment of the public health workforce we would be most able to influence and which, in turn, could influence others. It demanded naming and understanding the connections between the multiple challenges facing the public health workforce from outside and within. It required defining the values and principles that guide our efforts, describing our vision for success, and developing metrics to determine when we had met our goals.

We agreed often, disagreed occasionally, but ultimately arrived at three areas of focus:

Advancing Health Equity through the Workforce

The public health workforce is key to advancing health equity, including collaborating with communities to address the social determinants of health, treating and supporting people to manage health challenges, and responding to urgent health crises.

Building Robust and Equitable Pathways in Public Health

An effective governmental public health system should have a workforce that has been recruited from a diverse pool of people aware of the value of governmental public health, interested in joining the workforce, and adequately prepared with the knowledge, capabilities, experience, and commitment to health equity they need to partner effectively with the communities in which they work.

Supporting Learning and Professional Development

We can’t stop at recruitment and retention; the governmental public health workforce needs equitable access to learning and professional development opportunities throughout their careers.

We have chosen to center health equity explicitly and unapologetically because realizing a nation in which everyone is able to thrive is an ambitious but necessary goal. It will not happen with good intentions. It will happen if this country prioritizes health equity in governmental public health and a diverse workforce that is adequately prepared and supported to serve every community, at all times.

We hope you will join us.


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