In late January 2021, the Department of Human Services (DHS) released its first Racial Equity Report. The report addresses DHS as an agency, the work DHS does for Pennsylvanians made vulnerable by racial and economic inequity, and its plans for addressing those inequities.
DHS is working to make its internal practices anti-racist. They established a steering committee in September 2020 to promote internal diversity and diversity in hiring practices. They are also considering an internal mentorship program. Poverty disproportionately impacts non-White people, and people of color are disproportionately served by DHS-administered public assistance programs. Accordingly, DHS is redesigning their employment and training programs to focus on how to better support their served populations and assist them in moving out of poverty.
The report also covers DHS’ work in services and outward-facing initiatives in the areas of health equity, economic justice, early childhood education, child welfare, and juvenile justice. DHS is working with other commonwealth agencies to develop a statewide resource and referral tool, RISE PA. The tool will connect people to services and supports that improve their health and well-being and address barriers in their lives. In addition, DHS reaffirmed their commitment to review and strengthen early childhood education, juvenile justice, and child welfare systems to benefit people of color.
The report’s section on health equity is of particular interest; there are significant racial health disparities in Pennsylvania. Statistical examples of these disparities abound. Black women are three times more likely to die in childbirth than White women. Black newborns in Pennsylvania are 13% less likely to receive the recommended number of well-child visits within their first fifteen months than White newborns. Seven percent of Black Pennsylvanians were uninsured in 2018, as compared five percent of White Pennsylvanians. Life expectancy is strongly linked to zip code; for example, newborn babies in North Philadelphia have a life expectancy of 68 years, but just five miles south, newborns can be expected to live to 88.
To remedy such disparities, DHS is working with HealthChoices physical health, behavioral health, and long-term services and supports managed care organizations (MCOs), providers across the health care system, and community organizations to shift their care provision approach. Newly established Regional Accountable Health Councils will conduct data analysis to uncover gaps, opportunities, and trends by race and then propose regional transformation plans to address social determinants and health inequities. This is occurring across physical health, behavioral health, long-term services and supports, and programs serving people with intellectual disabilities and autism.
Furthermore, DHS is seeking to refine their existing data infrastructure to facilitate continuous monitoring of racial disparities. Their goal is to coordinate responses and hold to benchmark data, goals, and progress of initiatives as they are implemented.
DHS Secretary Teresa Miller noted, “This report is our commitment to making DHS an actively anti-racist organization where we can start to do our part to reverse centuries of inequity that many still experience every day...The more than 3 million people DHS serves, our nearly 16,000 employees, and the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a whole deserve this.”
Read the report in its entirety here.