Strengthening the Capacity of Local Health Departments and Partners to Advance Equity


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In 2022, PHI’s Berkeley Media Studies Group provided strategic communications support to help public health departments and their partners strengthen racial and health equity communications and build their organizational capacity to advance equity in communities.

Public Health Institute’s Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG) partnered with the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII), the Public Health Alliance of Southern California (a program of PHI), and the San Joaquin Valley Public Health Consortium to support local health departments and their partners in communicating more effectively about racial and health inequities and build their organizational capacity to advance equity in communities through the state, using a variety of strategies.

Strategy #1: News Analysis and Findings

In May 2022, BMSG analyzed data and published a report on how California news outlets talk about pandemic recovery and looked at how topics such as housing, food access and community safety were being discussed. As part of the analysis, BMSG explored key questions and offered recommendations for centering equity. Key findings from the report revealed:

  • Overall, public health practitioners’ voices are lacking in news coverage about how we will recover from the largest public health crisis of our time; that absence is especially stark when we consider how many equity-focused solutions could be relevant to this news coverage that go well beyond masks and vaccines.
  • Most news articles framed the COVID-19 pandemic as an unexpected, isolated event rather than a crisis that exacerbated pre-existing inequities.
  • Solutions focused on “getting back to normal” by supporting businesses, a narrow economic frame that neglects housing, paid sick leave, child care, reducing the number of people who are incarcerated, and other social determinants of health that present opportunities for rectifying inequities.
  • News about the pandemic recovery often personified the economy, using language that portrayed it as a force of its own, rather than an entity connected to policy decisions that we can intervene on.

Recommendations included:

  1. Frame recovery in terms of people and public health, rather than using a strictly economic frame.
  2. Name specific solutions that elevate equity.
  3. Prepare public health and community messengers.
  4. Generate media attention for a just recovery.

Since the report was published, it has received over 900 unique views online, with the average reader spending over four minutes on the page. Read a summary of the report.

Strategy #2: Training on Housing & Health

During 2022, BMSG partnered with another PHI-led program, the Public Health Alliance of Southern California, and Human Impact Partners to provide a training on how public health workers and their partners can be powerful voices in shaping decisions that impact housing conditions for California’s families and communities. Alameda County Public Health Department was featured during the BMSG training event, which was tailored to meet the needs of partner members and participants. 71 participants attended the training, representing diverse organizations, health departments, housing activists, and more.

Strategy #3: Connecting with the Press

As a strategic approach to strengthening racial and health equity communications, BMSG provided press conference support for BARHII to promote BARHII’s development of a Bay Area Black Housing Fund, which asks that the state of CA invest part of its budget surplus in housing for Black communities in California to address inequities.

The press conference resulted in front-page coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle, and coverage in other key media outlets, including in NBC, SF Gate, and KALW. BMSG remained behind the scenes to help elevate their partners and the issue in the media.

About the Berkeley Media Studies Group (BMSG)

BMSG is a program of the Public Health Institute and is dedicated to expanding advocates’ ability to improve the systems and structures that determine health and accelerate movement toward racial and health equity. BMSG has extensive experience in research, training, and technical assistance related to communicating about challenging social, political, and economic issues that shape health. Visit their website.

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