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Place Matters team members join members of Congress to talk racial and health inequities

This morning, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ Health Policy Institute hosted members of Congress and a panel of local leaders for a congressional briefing on health inequities.  Panelists discussed their experience with the center’s Place Matters program, an initiative dedicated to helping local leaders to identify and improve social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health in their communities.

The Place Matters Program aims to advance health equity by acknowledging racial inequities as the “root cause” of health inequities in communities across the U.S. Research commissioned by the Joint Center estimated the cost of health inequalities experienced by African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos to be $1.24 trillion from 2003-2006, prompting a desire to further the analysis and advance creative policy solutions through the development of the Place Matters program, operated since 2006. Place Matters teams work in 24 jurisdictions in 10 states and the District of Columbia, using research to build a case around the root causes of health disparities and developing innovative policy solutions to improve health.

Representatives Barbara Lee (CA-9), Jim McDermott (WA-7) and Robin Kelly (IL-2) attended the briefing, acknowledging the connection between local conditions and community health. Rep. Barbara Lee told the group, “Our health really is determined by our environment – place matters.”

Panelists went one step further, emphasizing the racial inequities that leave children of color more prone to the health effects of living in underserved communities, including limited access to quality health care throughout their childhood. Members of the Place Matters teams from Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland), Alameda County, Calif. (Oakland), Bernalillo County, N.M. (Albuquerque) and Prince George’s County, Md. (outside Washington, DC) participated in a panel moderated by Brian D. Smedley, vice president and director of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Health Policy Institute. 

Discussion ranged from the specific circumstances surrounding each of the four communities to overarching themes like structural racism, which panelists believe to be a pervasive and persistent issue. David Harrington, president and CEO of the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce and co-lead of the Prince George’s Place Matters team, said that “Just because we have African American leaders does not mean structural racism does not exist.”

As the work of the Place Matters program continues, team members and Joint Center leadership agree: communities in the U.S. are not equal. Addressing racial inequities will have a profound impact on these communities, and the research and support developed through Place Matters contributes positively to combating racial and health inequities in key communities.

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is an anchor institution of the W.K. Kellogg’s America Healing initiative. For more information about the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, visit www.jointcenter.org. For more information about the Place Matters program, visit www.jointcenter.org/hpi/pages/place-matters

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