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Written by Dr. Susan Manning, Dr. Sabrina Selk, Antonia Blinn, Katie Stetler, and Lamar Polk

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth achieve their best health by eliminating disparities, addressing the social determinants of health, and using data-driven practices. The Department developed the Racial Equity Data Road Map (Road Map) as a tool for eliminating structural racism, especially in the programs it supports through the Commonwealth.

NPHW alternate imageThe Road Map is a collection of guiding questions, tools, and resources to assist programs in taking concrete steps to better identify, understand, and act to address racial inequities. It outlines ideas, suggestions, and best practices for using data to close gaps in health outcomes by race and ethnicity.

Using the Road Map can help programs address structural and institutional racism and the way systems and policies advantage certain groups and disadvantage others. An explicit focus on racism allows for the development of frameworks and resources that can be applied to racial inequities that impact health outcomes. This also provides the opportunity to better understand how racism influences public health so that actionable strategies and solutions can be identified.

The Road Map focuses on the use of data to inform racial equity work in DPH-funded programs and initiatives so that services are delivered in a more equitable way, optimizing health and well-being for all residents of the Commonwealth. Improving the use of data to inform racial equity work includes collecting and analyzing data, collaborating with communities, framing program data in the context of historical and current policies/practices, and identifying system factors that impact the health of communities. Additionally, it includes asking questions and using tools to aid in root cause analyses, identifying and designing solutions, and developing strategies to address inequities.

Using this Road Map will support DPH programs to authentically engage the community; frame data in the broader historical and structural contexts that impact health; communicate that inequities are unfair, unjust and preventable; and design solutions that address the root causes of these issues.

The Road Map is intended to be used in a flexible way that best meets the needs of programs based on their unique goals, structures, and capacity in data analysis and quality improvement. It is also a living document that will be updated regularly based on feedback from its users. Because no one has achieved the goal of fully realizing racial equity, there will be a need to continually refine and build upon this Road Map as the practice of using data to inform our racial equity efforts evolves.

The Department strives to promote racial equity and eliminate unfair disparities among populations in Massachusetts. This involves actively addressing structural racism, incorporating cultural relevance into services, and improving outcomes for marginalized communities. As one example, DPH has identified a need for culturally-specific, re-entry programming for Black and Latino men with histories of substance use. The state’s Chapter 55 report found an approximately 50 times higher overdose death rate in formerly incarcerated people than among non-incarcerated state residents. According to more recent state data, Black and Latino men are experiencing increasing rates of overdose, even as overdose rates decline among whites.

To address this need, the DPH Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) has allocated funds from the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Overdose Data to Action Grant and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Federal Block Grant to support enhanced programming for Black and Latino men at risk of fatal overdose following release from incarceration.  MDPH’s Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) will fund non-profit, community-based organizations to implement the Recovery-Based Re-Entry Services for Black and Latino Men Pilot in four counties.  Organizations will provide culturally-responsive, intensive case management to Black and Latino men pre-and-post release.  Organizations will also provide adequate physical space for program participants to socially engage and receive support services, aligned with the overall MA COVID-19 strategy. The hope is to build a sense of brotherhood and community among the men, while supporting recovery and successful re-integration into larger society.  Community integration activities may include:

  • Peer support groups focused on relapse prevention, fatherhood, community re-integration, etc.
  • Re-entry clinic that offers “walk-in” assistance for various re-entry needs (e.g. clothing assistance, transportation assistance, food assistance, etc.).
  • Social activities such as bi-weekly dinners, poetry slams, domino tournaments, etc.
  • Community re-integration initiatives such as jobs fairs, skills training courses, etc.

Pilot programming will focus on towns/regions with higher rates of fatal overdoses among Black and Latino men.  Pilot programming is expected to begin later this year.

Written By:

of the Bureau of Family Health and Nutrition

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