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Best practices and tools for advancing health equity for underserved communities (Part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this series, we looked broadly at how best practices for equity assessments and strategies and barrier and burden reduction can help states and local health departments, social service agencies, and federal human services programs serve some of the nation’s most underserved populations.

This article looks more closely at two specific best practices: procurement and contracting; and stakeholder and community engagement.

Procurement and contracting

Throughout the contracting process, agencies and programs can drive equity in myriad ways. One important way to drive equity is to include standard diversity and inclusion language in government contracts. Another tactic is to develop a procurement equity framework and expectations that are well-defined, widely shared, updated, and evaluated as needed. Policies should be clear about efforts to overcome past discrimination to ensure contracting equity. Regulations, policies, and practices should be examined with equity tools to guarantee that complex and systemic barriers are eliminated for small and diverse firms.

Strategies to infuse diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the procurement and contracting process should be implemented and assessed to ensure each step is implemented in a non-biased way. Once a best practice is achieved, contracting equity programs should collaborate with other jurisdictions and share their protocols with their networks to replicate it in other agencies and jurisdictions.

Race and gender-neutral procurement strategies can be implemented by requiring minority-owned sub-contracts at relatively low contract prices, requiring inclusion plans for prime contractors, and removing any type of barriers for these types of contractors. Contracts should encourage preferences for small businesses by introducing incentives such as bid discounts for prime contractors which partner with small businesses.

Stakeholder and community engagement

Close partnerships with community-serving organizations and community leadership across the country are essential to create resilient communities, build trust, address inequities, and better serve disadvantaged communities.

Agencies and programs should work to expand existing collaboration with community organizations by strengthening communication channels, providing valuable funds and in-kind resources, and building trusted relations with new partners working with social, religious, racial representatives and groups. In return, these organizations can improve their services by collecting vital data and leveraging their partners for data analytics and opportunities to better understand and extend particularly effective interventions in focused and timely ways.

Community capacity building and engagement are important to develop, implement, and continuously improve effective infectious disease prevention and control efforts and other health and human service programs. Early, frequent, and sustained discussions with communities are critical for understanding socio-cultural contexts, building rapport and trust, and developing culturally appropriate service delivery strategies.

To be sure, these best practices require intentional and intensive planning and execution, sustained monitoring, quality improvement and evolution, and dedicated and committed teams. But advancing health equity and support for underserved communities is both a national priority and a moral imperative that requires deep collaboration between the public and private sectors as well as the medical, academic, and vulnerable communities.

To learn more about how Maximus works to help agencies and programs holistically address health inequities, visit our Public Health practice here.