Massachusetts Initiative to Address Health Outcome Disparities

Feb. 19, 2024
The first year of Advancing Health Equity in Massachusetts (AHEM) initiative will have two primary focuses: maternal health and social determinants of health

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has rolled out an initiative to work toward eliminating racial, economic, and regional disparities in health outcomes.

The Advancing Health Equity in Massachusetts (AHEM) initiative will engage agencies and stakeholders from across the state in reworking the systems that lead to poor outcomes for vulnerable communities. 

The first year of AHEM will have two primary focuses: maternal health and social determinants of health. Building on a July 2023 Department of Public Health (DPH) report that revealed major inequities in unexpected labor and delivery complications, AHEM will examine maternal health and how to improve outcomes for mothers and infants in the period before, during, and after birth. AHEM will also examine the living conditions and societal structures that make a person more vulnerable to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiometabolic diseases – the leading cause of death   in Massachusetts. 

In addition to statewide health equity work, including the implementation of the MassHealth Equity Incentive Program and MassHealth doula benefits, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) will pilot strategies in the 10 areas of the state with the most extreme health disparities. These priority locations will serve as a starting point for initial targeted efforts that will later serve as a model for interventions statewide.  

Using the recommendations laid out in the Department of Public Health (DPH) Review of Maternal Health Access as a guide, the AHEM team will work with community members and health equity leaders to identify immediate actions with the greatest impact. These interventions will involve all 11 agencies within EOHHS and the MassHealth program, as well as partners across the Healey-Driscoll Administration. By using this Administration-wide approach, AHEM will seek to get to the root of the economic, social, and environmental factors that lead to and worsen pregnancy complications and heart disease.   

“In our country, your zip code is more predictive of your life expectancy than your genetic code. To address health disparities, we have to focus our efforts where these disparities are most profound,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh, in a statement. “By engaging with those communities, we are building a foundation of equity that we can build upon across the Commonwealth. Our Administration is relentlessly focused on improving the health of families and people in every zip code in our state, added Walsh who is leading the initiative along with Undersecretary for Health Kiame Mahaniah, M.D.

“Over the past year, DPH has published several reports showing that the effects of structurally supported inequities can be deadly. Far too many vulnerable Massachusetts residents have lost their lives because they can’t access the available services and supports they need,” said  Mahaniah, in a statement. “Through AHEM, we want to make having a baby in Massachusetts a safe and wonderful experience for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income. We want to prevent heart attacks and strokes caused by a lifetime of stressful living under inescapable inequities. We want to protect low-income residents from disproportionally bearing the impacts of climate change. Our ultimate measure will be closing the racial gap in life expectancy.” 

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