Thought Leadership

Overcoming Longstanding Health Disparities Through Effective and Impactful Community Engagement

March 1, 2022
Stephanie Kundert

As we continue to navigate the challenging COVID-19 maze, the need to address health disparities among communities of color has never been more apparent and important than it is now. Decades of research have proven there are higher rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and stroke among Black people than those of any other race. For example, as recent as 2020, the Georgia Department of Public Health found that the stroke death rate among the state’s Black residents was 33 percent higher than for White residents.

These longstanding health disparities, exacerbated by the pandemic, have been illuminated under a bright media spotlight, amplifying this significant public health crisis. This has resulted in a tidal wave of coverage along with various commitments from businesses, community and political leaders to address and eradicate these disparities while improving overall health equity for communities of color.

As companies and organizations consider the solutions they want to offer and the best approach toward addressing health disparities, there are several key considerations of which to be mindful. These include knowing the community and understanding specific barriers impacting access to health care along with speaking in an authentic voice about the issues which matter most. Understanding the community ensures the path forward will lead to a lasting impact in reducing disparities and protecting vulnerable communities.

For business, political and non-profit leaders who are looking to develop and implement a program targeting health disparities in 2022, we recommend a strategic framework comprised of the following components:

Know your targeted audience

Gather relevant demographic information, recent stories from local news sources and on-the-ground insights to learn what is on the minds of your targeted audience

Have a well-rounded understanding of the markets/communities you wish to engage

Familiarize yourself with the specific social determinants of health contributing to the disparities experienced within a particular community (e.g., lack of transportation, medical staff shortage or hospital closures)

Map out key stakeholders and develop appropriate messaging for engaging them  

From city council members to ministers to small business owners to non-profit leaders, you will need to demonstrate why your program matters to these influencers’ respective constituencies and how you intend to help them

Be prepared to shift your strategy

From natural disasters to elections to protests, anything garnering headlines and calls for support will require an adept and appropriate shift in strategy and messaging

Set realistic goals and consider long-term timing

Particularly when it comes to campaigns and programs focusing on health care and/or healthcare public policy, it could take several months or even years to achieve tangible results. Start with realistic goals centered on building out your program

Given the seemingly overwhelming complexities surrounding health disparities against rapidly changing media and political landscapes, we’ve been able to help our clients stay focused on achieving realistic goals intended to attract attention among the “gatekeepers.” These include community influencers, thought leaders and government officials who each play a vital role in developing policy solutions to help improve access to care.

Headlines only capture so much of the real story about those impacted. In collaboration with our nationwide network of local experts, Direct Impact has conducted extensive research to better understand the various community dynamics and social determinants of health below the surface of each market of interest to our clients. We have also identified a diverse network of trusted voices from cities such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, and communities in between, who can speak to the needs of their constituencies and help facilitate a thoughtful dialogue around realistic solutions to address and eradicate health disparities.

If you’re looking to make an impact on health equity this year but don’t know where to begin, start by engaging trusted local voices in developing a well-rounded understanding of the community that will help inform achievable long-term objectives.  

Stephanie Kundert is a Vice President at Direct Impact (DI), the nation’s leading grassroots firm, and a member of the BCW Group of companies. She counsels a variety of health care clients, including in the Fortune 50, in navigating the political landscape and legislative process in states across the country while providing guidance on effective advocacy and communications strategies to achieve key policy objectives. Early in her career, Stephanie worked in the legislature and out on the campaign trail in her native battleground state of Wisconsin.

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