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Seal of the Governor
For Immediate Release: May 11, 2020
Contacts: Office of the Governor: Alena Yarmosky, Alena.Yarmosky@governor.virginia.gov

Governor Northam Announces Health Equity Pilot Program with City of Richmond

Ongoing efforts will engage and prioritize communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19

RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced a pilot program with the City of Richmond to support the Commonwealth’s ongoing focus on health equity. The partnership aims to increase equitable access to personal protective equipment (PPE) in underserved communities that may be most adversely impacted by the virus. Virginia’s Health Equity Leadership Task Force is working to leverage data to prioritize areas experiencing disproportionate impacts and is partnering with the City of Richmond to establish policies and programs to address these critical issues.

“Virginia is committed to ensuring equitable access to healthcare resources and comprehensive support to help our most vulnerable communities combat COVID-19,” said Governor Northam. “We will continue to encourage and enhance these efforts as we move through the various phases of reopening our Commonwealth.”

The City of Richmond has been working to enhance its focus on equity through community engagement and training for city personnel. Most recently, the Richmond Fire Department received training from the Health Equity Leadership Task Force, which included an emphasis on cultural humility and implicit bias. The City’s fire personnel will go door to door in underserved neighborhoods in Richmond to distribute public health information in various languages, and to provide residents with supplies such as face masks and hand sanitizer. To date, more than 20,000 masks and 20,000 bottles of hand sanitizer have been provided to the City of Richmond for distribution to communities who are most at need.

“COVID-19 isn’t singular in its disproportionate effect on communities of color with high poverty rates,” said City of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. “The healthcare disparities highlighted by this pandemic are a manifestation of historic injustices, which we can help address with targeted, equity-driven efforts like this program.”

The Health Equity Leadership Task Force provides leadership to the Unified Command Health Equity Work Group, which was proactively established on March 11, 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Virginia. The purpose of the Task Force and Work Group is to serve as the Commonwealth’s first-ever coalition during an emergency response to ensure a health equity lens is applied to all decision making within Virginia’s ongoing response. The Task Force meets twice every day and the Work Group meets once a week to review policies, provide real-time learning opportunities, review communications campaigns, and ensure small-, women-, and minority-owned businesses are leveraged in the response and recovery. 

Dr. Janice Underwood, who serves as Virginia’s first-ever Chief Diversity Officer, leads the Health Equity Leadership Task Force, and has worked with several faith and civic leaders to ensure the success of this effort. Sable K. Nelson, Acting Director of the Office of Health Equity at the Virginia Department of Health, serves as the chair of the Health Equity Work Group.

“It is imperative that equity be the cornerstone of our COVID-19 response, and all public health and emergency responses moving forward,” said Dr. Janice Underwood, Chief Diversity Officer to Governor Northam. “The work of the Health Equity Leadership Task Force and the Health Equity Work Group is historic and necessary as we work toward making sure that the most under-resourced communities in Virginia have access to testing, life-saving PPE, and culturally affirming education materials in preferred languages and formats. The opportunity to stay safe and healthy throughout this long-term response and recovery should not only be afforded to the privileged—this is a humanity issue.”

The Health Equity Leadership Task Force collaborates with local governments to provide support to vulnerable communities because everyone does not experience the same privileges for social or physical distancing or receive information the same way. The Task Force provides localities with access to health equity training for all city employees and volunteers, personal protective equipment (PPE), culturally appropriate educational materials to support diverse communities, and support in identifying neighborhoods at elevated risk with mapping technology.

The City of Richmond community engagement event is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12.

Similar partnerships with diverse localities, such as the cities of Harrisonburg and Chesapeake and others across the Commonwealth are already underway and anticipated to expand. Learn more about the equity leadership team and the Health Equity Work Group here.

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