DHHS Has Historic Opportunity to Address COVID-19 Health Disparities With $32 Million in Federal Funding

November 4, 2021

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) are launching a series of new initiatives to advance health equity in communities at higher risk of COVID-19, supported by an unprecedented grant of over $32 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC).

The funds are part of U.S. CDC’s $2.25 billion national initiative to expand state and community capacity and services funded through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021.

With input from communities and stakeholders, DHHS plans to use this historic, one-time investment to support initiatives to develop equitable public health infrastructure in communities at higher risk of COVID-19 infection or transmission, including racial and ethnic minority groups and people living in rural communities. The funds will be administered by the newly reinstated Office of Population Health Equity (OPHE) within Maine CDC under the leadership of its Director, Ian Yaffe. In addition, the grant provides funds for DHHS to improve data systems and communications tools to better understand and address health disparities statewide. This includes dedicating additional staff and resources in several DHHS offices to serve disproportionately affected communities.

COVID-19 highlighted health disparities that are closely linked to longstanding health and social inequities affecting communities across Maine. As part of the planning process, DHHS and Maine CDC worked in partnership with community stakeholders to ensure that critical lessons learned during the public health emergency are integrated into OPHE’s work going forward. Three core strategies were identified as part of this process:

  1. improve data collection and reporting related to health disparities,
  2. invest in community-based infrastructure to prevent future disparities, and
  3. increase partnerships to advance health equity and address social determinants of heath.

The new initiatives are informed by these core strategies and aim to advance health equity by deepening our relationships with community leaders, investing resources directly in communities most severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and other serious threats to public health, and building collective capacity to reduce disparities in the future.

DHHS will invest the $32 million awarded to Maine through both direct grants to community organizations and by providing technical assistance in several priority activities including:

  • Investing in community-led organizations addressing health equity to enable them to develop and enhance organizational, management, financial, and technical infrastructure.
  • Improving reporting and data collection systems to identify and track progress on health care disparities across DHHS.
  • Partnering with community-led organizations to conduct needs assessments to inform health and social service delivery.
  • Addressing unique disparities associated with the pandemic through community health workers, health-related social needs, public health emergency preparedness, and telehealth in rural communities.
  • Developing engagement, notification, and communications tools tailored to diverse communities using MaineCare and other health care and social services.
  • Expanding community paramedicine and systems for coordinating care.
  • Supporting the work of community organizations with capacity building, health equity training, and technical assistance.

These investments build on DHHS’ existing programs to address disparities through its statewide response efforts, including $8.5 million allocated to 39 organizations since 2020 to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccination, testing, and wrap-around services to support safe isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.

DHHS and OPHE will host two webinars to discuss the activities funded under this proposal and to share funding timelines with interested organizations. Organizations and community members interested in learning more about the initiative may register to attend either session.

Session A: Monday, November 15, 2021: 1:00-2:00p

Session B: Wednesday, November 17, 2021: 5:30-6:30p

If you are unable to attend the sesion, you should still register to receive a recording. Session A and Session B will cover the same content.