Highlighting Health Equity Practice in California Public Health Departments


Advancing Health Equity Awards 2017: Highlighting Health Equity Practice in California Public Health Departments is intended to recognize and support innovative local public health department work that strives to achieve health equity. The purpose is to showcase and reward public health department practices that can inform future work committed to health equity. It will draw from a wide range of existing initiatives to profile unique examples of work that go beyond the traditional scope of public health department programs and show promise of making significant progress in reducing health inequities.


There is substantial evidence that the physical, social, economic, and political environments in which people live, learn, work, and play have a greater impact on their health than genes or medical care. A difference of as much as twenty years or more in life expectancy between neighborhoods in the same city or region have posed new challenges to public health. The persistence of these stark differences in life expectancy can best be addressed by changing the underlying policies and legacies of historical practices that create the living conditions that undermine good health. Public health practice must move beyond its current scope to address issues such as residential segregation, income inequalities, redlining, gentrification, infrastructure deficits, air-water-and soil pollution and political disenfranchisement, which will require engagement in areas such as economic development, employment, education, housing, tax policy, immigration, voting policies, environmental regulation, land use, transportation, and more. Only a transformed public health practice can effectively address health inequities – differences in health that are systemic, avoidable, unfair and unjust.

Many public health departments, with their community and organizational alliances, are exploring this new territory and developing innovative strategies to achieve greater health equity. They are examining the health impacts of policies in other sectors, working with residents and decision makers to influence those policies, and supporting efforts to involve residents in local decision-making. Nationally, the recent election and what is sure to be its challenging aftermath in terms of health equity will make this type of work more difficult but also more necessary than ever. Public health departments in California can lead the way and inspire others around the country. Advancing Health Equity Awards 2017: Highlighting Health Equity Practice in California Public Health Departments will feature the important work going on in the state, to help advance a new standard of health equity practice in local health departments in California and beyond.


Public health departments engaged in innovative health equity work are invited to submit applications for Advancing Health Equity awards. Only one application per jurisdiction is allowed and the public health department director must sign off on the application.

A planning group made up of leaders from several initiatives and organizations representing public health departments across California will review the applications and determine which will receive the awards. Videos and case studies of the awardees will be produced and distributed and these will be featured at a celebration event planned for May 24 in Los Angeles, where an Advancing Health Equity Award of $100,000 will be given to the most compelling example of work on health equity. Three additional awards of $25,000 each will be given to health departments that demonstrate promising health equity practices, using the California Conference of Local Health Officers definitions for small (<200,000), medium (200,00-700,000) and large (>700,000) jurisdictions. The California Endowment will provide funding for support staff, production of the videos, writing of the case studies and the awards.

For the 2017 Advancing Health Equity Awards, we are looking for applicants whose submitted practice demonstrates all or some of the following:

      • Contributing to building power in communities.[1]
      • Working directly with residents and communities most impacted by inequities.[2]
      • Working directly with social, economic, racial, environmental, and/or climate justice organizations.
      • Using cross-sector collaborations to change public or private policies and practices related to social determinants of health.
      • Changing people’s understanding of and the discussion of what leads to health, from a focus on healthcare, the biomedical model, and individual behaviors to a focus on the social determinants of health and health equity.
      • Engaging in internal institutional change that drives changes external to the department.

[1] Building community power is the process by which communities gain control over the factors that shape their lives. It can include efforts that: increased community influence over decisions being made; built stronger alliances between organizations that can then influence what is on the political agenda; or changed the understanding of people in the community about what leads to health, creating more openings to advance health equity.

[2] Community members facing inequities may be engaged directly by the public health department or through community organizing groups, by which we mean groups that: a) help a community identify common problems or change targets, mobilize resources, and develop and implement strategies to reach their collective goals; b) bring people who identify as being part of the community together to solve problems that they themselves identify; and c) work to develop civic agency among individuals and communities to take control over their lives and environments.