Living Up to your Commitment to Health Equity: Lessons from the Catalyst

By Jamie Cousins and ShaCoria Winston

According to the National Academies of Medicine, health equity is the state in which everyone has the opportunity to attain full health potential and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or any other socially defined circumstance. Many organizations recognize the importance of eliminating health inequities and have committed to optimizing the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, learn and age.

The Catalyst for Healthy Eating and Active Living (Catalyst) program identified health equity as a priority and revised our vision statement and strategies to explicitly articulate our focus on equity. In this blog, we share three key ways that we embedded a health equity focus into our work.

1) Training and Practice 

Cleveland County Catalyst Coordinator, Tammy
Bass, and members of the Common Ground Café
Board pose for a picture during a meeting.

The Catalyst began participating in training to gain a deeper understanding of systemic inequities. All team members completed two-day workshops facilitated by the Racial Equity Institute (REI). Additionally, Rural Forward NC assisted us with training and technical assistance on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). This included hosting sessions at team retreats, participating on monthly calls, and forming of an internal working group (discussed below). We began to build common language and gain a deeper understanding of history, power, privilege and systemic oppression and what this means in relation to our work. During team meetings and retreats, we were intentional about bringing health equity to the forefront as well as incorporating staff-led discussions on topics of equity. We practiced discussing current events and issues of inequities that impact the communities we serve and the broader nation. This helped us grow stronger in our abilities to engage community partners in dialogue and efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.

2) Leadership & Change Team

The Catalyst formed a “Change Team” – a subset of our full team with the charge to keep diversity, equity and inclusion front of mind for us all. A key accomplishment of this team was creating and implementing an internal self-assessment in collaboration with Rural Forward NC. The assessment results informed a Catalyst action plan that addressed both our internal capacity to advance health equity and our external practices for supporting health equity in communities. While leading these efforts, the Change Team was mindful of engaging all staff and emphasizing that advancing health equity was everyone’s work. Change Team members also bridged with other groups, including the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation’s Equity Leadership Team and the NC Division of Public Health, Chronic Disease and Injury Section’s Health Equity Community of Practice. The leadership of the Change Team was instrumental in building and sustaining momentum in our work for health equity and in connecting with other groups to share, learn and grow together.

Former Twin Counties Catalyst Coordinator, Shoneca Kent, and Cedar Grove Elementary School staff record measurements for a walking track located at the school.

3) Structure & Culture

The Catalyst eventually reshaped our practices and operations in concrete ways to address health equity. For example, when considering whether to use our funding for local projects, we asked ourselves how the project would benefit priority populations. In 2017, the Catalyst began a process of revisiting our primary HEAL strategies. This process included engagement of both subject matter experts at the state health department and Catalyst staff with expertise working in communities to implement HEAL strategies. By involving both groups, we were able to vet proven strategies while staying focused on practical approaches for health equity in our communities. Through this process we developed logic models with specific activities to advance health equity. The logic models were packaged in a Catalyst HEAL Strategy Guide that included health equity guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As a result of this work, our program model and practices more clearly reflected and reinforced our commitment to health equity.

The Catalyst team created an internal culture that reflected our values of diversity, equity and inclusion. When new staff joined the team, they participated in REI training so that all staff had some common framework. By learning together, we gradually increased trust with each other, allowing us to go deeper into conversations of DEI. Our progress was measured but steady. By 2017 we revised our vision statement to more clearly address health equity: The Catalyst envisions empowered rural communities that acknowledge health iniquities and advance change to improve health and wellbeing for everyone.

The Catalyst envisions empowered rural communities that acknowledge health iniquities and advance change to improve health and wellbeing for everyone.

The new vision statement was more than a change in words. It came after a careful analysis of our values and after several years of growth in understanding health equity in relation to our own lives as well as our work.

While we know it’s not perfect, this was a marker of progress for us and a part of our journey – a journey we are grateful to be on alongside many partners and allies in this work.

Stay tuned for our next blog about Evaluation.

 The Catalyst for Healthy Eating and Active Living is a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation in partnership with the NC Division of Public Health’s Community and Clinical Connections for Prevention and Health Branch with funding from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

To see our Five Year Summary and Catalyst Video, please visit our webpage.

Contact Jamie Cousins, Catalyst Program Director, at / (919) 707-5241 for info or with questions