Voices for Change: Mobilizing for Health Equity

Author Details

Keerti Kanchinadam

Policy & Outreach Manager

Organization: California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Go to California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Last month, the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) convened over 200 community and healthcare leaders at our biennial conference Voices for Change: Mobilizing for Health Equity. At a time when we have seen attack after attack against the health and well-being of our communities, we came together to discuss how we can leverage our collective power to organize, advocate, and vote for equity.

To kick off the day, our keynote speaker, Maria Hinojosa, shared her inspiring personal stories around immigration, mental health, and being the first Latina in numerous newsrooms. Maria reminded us that we each have our own unique stories of resilience and that our stories have power.

“As people of color tell their stories, we build power, and we can change the larger narrative around us.” – Maria Hinojosa, Emmy-winning journalist

With Maria’s stories of resilience in mind, we shifted to the morning plenary where leading advocates discussed strategies for mobilizing around an intersectional health equity agenda. From reproductive justice, to LGBTQ rights, immigration, and climate change—the barriers that communities color face are multifaceted and complex. Panelists discussed all that is at stake for communities in the upcoming November midterm election, in 2020 and beyond. Zahra Billoo of CAIR-SFBA implored participants to ask themselves three guiding questions as we consider the sustainability of our work:

 “Who is not at the table and how can you invite them? How can we work smarter not harder because this is a marathon? [And] how can we can make civic engagement and activism part of our community’s lifestyle?” – Zahra Billoo of CAIR-SFBA

The day ended with a lively closing plenary on messaging and strategies that actually bring people out to vote and be involved over time. Our panelists reminded us that what motivates people to take action in a long-term way is not fear but values and relationships. It is our responsibility as advocates to not just create messages based on polls, but to build a strong infrastructure that pulls people in to vote today and sustains them to take action and tell their stories everyday going forward.

“When talking about taxes, we are really talking about the impact on people’s lives when disinvestment happens. We need to message based on the values that people have.” – Veronica Carrizales of California Calls

Finally, our conference was also a celebration of CPEHN’s 25th anniversary. We deeply honor our founding partners: Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, California Black Health Network, California Rural Indian Health Board, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California – who came together at a time of deep racial turmoil to create a space for health equity. Our founding partner’s vision, support, and guidance is deeply rooted in CPEHN’s foundation and gives us the structure and support for our work going forward.

As many of our conference speakers shared, much of what we are living through today builds on a legacy of racism and exclusion rooted in our country’s history. But the actions we take today to build new leaders and raise our voices will set the course for our future. Thank you to all of our partners for 25 years of collaboration and continuing to fight along our side for health equity!

Our conference also featured a wide-range of workshops focused on specific health equity topics and with a focus on our California agenda. Did you miss a workshop? Get a sense of the conversation from highlights below. Speaker biographies and PowerPoint presentations are available here.

Key Themes from Our Conference Workshops

Advancing Equitable Health Care for All Californians

Fortunately, California has thwarted many Federal healthcare attacks by protecting affordability, preserving the 3-month enrollment period, and investing $110 million in marketing and outreach.

Consumer advocates have joined together to advocate for universal coverage in California through the Care4AllCA campaign which aims to expand coverage for undocumented adults and improve health care cost, quality, and equity. The campaign will continue to push for bold investments in health care under the new Governor in 2019.

The climate is particularly acute for communities of color:

  • Black communities face severe health disparities across health outcome metrics. CBHN community voices call for Medi-Cal reform that includes simplified enrollment, cultural competence, and holistic care solutions that address trauma and legacies of racism.
  • Immigrant communities are facing numerous threats from the repeal of DACA and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to changes to public charge rules. Advocates need to come together to defend immigrant communities and push proactively for Health4All.

Designing Healthy and Equitable Communities

This panel focused on strategies and movements to build equity into planning and community development touching on examples in transportation, land-use, and community-driven local projects across rural and urban areas of the state.

Throughout the conversation, one theme emerged: There is often a contradiction that results from investments in communities. Projects thought to be positive investments and advancing equity in disadvantaged communities may actually result in the displacement of the very residents of those communities.

To truly integrate equity, we need to not only better engage community residents but must mitigate the unintended consequences of gentrification and displacement.

Fighting for Immigrant Health, Safety, and Human Rights

The current administration has taken at least 15 actions to undermine due process, limit legal migration, separate families, and criminalize immigrant communities. At the same time, we have to recognize that today’s policies build on our country’s longstanding history of racism and exclusion.

There are lessons to learn from California’s own trajectory from anti-immigrant policies in the 80’s and 90’s to pro-immigrant inclusions and protections that we see today.

Our movement has to be reflective of everybody—refugees, undocumented, black immigrants, and more. California has made a lot of progress but we cannot forget areas of the state that are still very conservative and populations that are erased.

Integrating Oral Health and Behavioral Health to Treat the Whole Person

This panel discussed strategies of integrating oral and behavioral health beyond traditional primary care models exploring integration from the perspectives of a health plan, county, provider, and community-based organization.

Why integration? Because it helps reduce disparities by improving access, improving coordination, and better addressing the reality that our physical, mental, and oral health are not separate conditions.

Panelists discussed diverse models at different stages of implementation. However, two common themes arose across all the models discussed:

  • Community engagement is crucial to ensure to the long-term sustainability of an integration effort; and
  • Integration models rely on incorporating a diverse mix of workforce providers.

Promoting Community Healing and Resilience

This workshop was led by powerful youth and community leaders who discussed different modalities of community healing practices and pushed participants think about how healing is inherently political.

Participants highlighted the tension between longstanding community healing traditions and the adoption of “innovative” practices that are slowly starting to be recognized in U.S. healthcare systems.

Participants shared examples of how community healing practices can not only build individual resilience but can motivate communities to push back against erasure and advocate for systems and policy change.

Teeth, Taxes, and Treatment: Making the Case for Oral Health

Advocates spoke about the importance of using a social justice lens to turn up the volume on the unequal conditions impacting low-income, communities of color. For example, through the Berkeley soda tax campaign, advocates shared how communities of color were targeted by the soda industry with specific marketing and advertising, which led to more effective engagement.

Oral health funding was a large looming question. Panelists raised questions about the sustainability of funding from Prop. 56, the Dental Transformation Initiative (scheduled to run until 2020), and the restoration of adult dental benefits through Denti-Cal.

Participants spoke to the need for more outreach to communities about the availability of current services, and in various languages. Additionally, many felt that education among providers is also crucial to sustaining current efforts as many providers are still not seeing Denti-Cal patients.

Finally, the lack of a diverse workforce and disproportionate distribution of dentists around the state continues to weigh on the minds of many as we face being the 49th state in nation for reimbursement rates, and an overall increased demand for oral health services.