On Saturday, the Oregon Health Equity Taskforce announced that a bill declaring racism a public health crisis in the state passed through both legislative chambers and is heading to Governor Kate Brown's desk for a signature.
House Bill 4052, entitled: "An Act Relating to equity; and declaring an emergency," requires the "Oregon Health Authority, guided by advisory committee to be convened by authority, to provide grants to operate two culturally and linguistically specific mobile health units, as pilot program, to improve health outcomes of Oregonians impacted by racism."
The bill states that the Oregon Health Authority shall create an advisory committee that will provide guidance on "establishing, funding and operating a pilot program to improve the health outcomes of Oregonians impacted by racism by providing grants to one or more entities to operate two culturally and linguistically specific mobile health units in this state," with the membership to this committee consisting of individuals from priority populations, public health and healthcare professionals, and at least 51 percent of the committee with decision-making authority be members of these priority populations.
Priority populations are defined as being "groups that disproportionately experience avoidable illness, death or other poor health or social outcomes attributable directly or indirectly to racism," which includes communities of color, Indigenous tribes, immigrants, low-income families, and more.
The pilot program will administer grants only to entities that demonstrate their ability to serve these priority populations, ability to "conduct meaningful community engagement," and "have previously established relationships with one or more priority populations."
The pilot health units that receive grants will be required to "engage in an assessment of the populations served by race, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity to inform the potential expansion of the pilot program statewide."
The authority will be required to give an interim report to the Legislative Assembly no later than Dec. 31, 2025, and a final report no later than June 30, 2026, on the implementation of these pilot programs and the findings of the study.
The bill states that "the Oregon Advocacy Commissions Office, in collaboration with culturally specific community-based organizations, shall convene affinity group task forces consisting of leaders of Black and indigenous communities, people of color and members of the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon."
These task forces will research the specific needs of the communities they represent and develop recommendations for allocations of resources to address concerns in these communities. These recommendations will be required before June 30, 2023.
Based on these task forces' research and recommendations, the Oregon Health Authority will develop their own recommendations on how to fund "robust culturally and linguistically specific intervention programs, across all relevant state agencies, designed to prevent or intervene in the health conditions that result in inequitable and negative outcomes for individuals who are Black or indigenous, people of color and members of tribes."
The recommendations are required to be given to the Legislative Assembly before Nov. 1, 2023, with final recommendations coming no later than Nov. 1 of the following year.
The bill states that the General Fund appropriation made to the Oregon Health Authority "for the biennium ending June 30, 2023, for health systems, health policy and analytics, and public health, is increased by $1,595,073 for the purpose of carrying out section 1 of this 2022 Act."
It also states that the maximum limits for payment of expenses from federal funds is increased for the same time period by $344,663 for the same purpose.
The bill states that it will take effect immediately upon its passage. Section One of the act will be repealed on Jan. 2, 2027, and Section Two will be repealed on Jan. 2, 2025.
"Thank you to the hundreds of organizations and individuals who rolled up their sleeves, endorsed the bill, contacted their legislators, provided testimony and the many other ways that a small group of people came together to make a difference now and for the future," the Oregon Public Health Association, which convenes the Oregon Health Equity Task Force and developed the bill, wrote on Twitter.
HB 4052 "acknowledges that Oregon's very founding as a state was rooted in racist ideals, and while the Black exclusionary laws are no longer on the books, the damaging impact of these and other racist policies continue to exist within our present-day policies and systems perpetuating health disparities. HB 4052 calls for accelerated, intentional actions to heal these injustices and articulates strategies and investments to address health inequities," OPHA's website says.