DHHS Progress on Addressing Health Disparities in Maine

May 31, 2023

In 2021, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) announced a series of new initiatives to advance health equity in communities at higher risk of COVID-19 and  address  systemic health inequities  revealed during the pandemic. These projects are supported by a COVID-19 Health Disparities grant of over $32 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S. CDC). Nearly two years into implementation, DHHS is pleased to share a progress update on this community effort.

Multiple programs are investing resources directly in communities most severely impacted by COVID-19, including those serving racial and ethnic minorities and rural populations. DHHS has also leveraged other federal funding sources, such as the U.S. CDC's COVID-19 Vaccination Supplement, with the COVID-19 Health Disparities grant to bolster aligned initiatives and streamline contracting for community-based organizations (CBOs).

This cross-Departmental effort is stewarded by Maine CDD’s Office of Population Health Equity (OPHE) with the goal of responding to urgent community needs during the height of the pandemic, addressing the ongoing impacts, and building collective capacity to reduce health disparities in the future.

Three core strategies are guiding implementation of this historic federal funding opportunity:

  1. Data Infrastructure: Improve data collection and reporting related to health disparities,
  2. Community Investment: Invest in community-based infrastructure to prevent future disparities, and
  3. Partnerships: Increase partnerships to advance health equity and address social determinants of health.

Accomplishments to date include:

  • Multi-million-dollar investment in tribal communities and CBOs: OPHE established two programs that address the root causes of racial and ethnic COVID-19 disparities, provide culturally relevant services related to the social determinants of health, and fortify community infrastructure developed during the pandemic for long-term health equity efforts. Grantees are providing outreach and education services in over 20 different languages and are geographically spread across the state, providing services in all of Maine’s nine Public Health Districts.
  • Addressing the end of the Medicaid continuous coverage requirement: OPHE partnered with the Office of MaineCare Services and the Office for Family Independence to develop multilingual, culturally appropriate outreach materials and a marketing campaign to inform the public and partners about the end of the Medicaid Continuous Coverage Requirement, known as “unwinding.” Grants were also made to support CBOs in providing direct assistance to vulnerable and under-resourced populations to inform them about the unwinding process, provide support in completing MaineCare reenrollment, and assist those no longer eligible for MaineCare to obtain affordable health care coverage through CoverME.gov, Maine’s Health Insurance Marketplace.
  • EMS community paramedicine and systems of care: Made investments to bolster Maine EMS’s ability to address health emergencies in rural settings with limited access to trauma care, including support for Maine’s existing Community Paramedicine program through the development of standardized community paramedicine training across the state, implementing a scope of practice approved by the Maine Board of Emergency Medical Services, and the distribution of funds to community partners to create or expand community paramedicine programs. In addition, a comprehensive trauma plan for the State of Maine is in development, and numerous clinician resources have been created and distributed to coordinate systems of care for emergency conditions.
  • Health Equity Advisory Council: OPHE established the Health Equity Advisory Council to ensure DHHS’s programming and strategy align with community needs and is informed by community expertise. The Council includes 16 members who are community leaders, care providers, and professionals, representative of the diverse communities in Maine.
  • Community-based COVID-19 testing and vaccines: Enabled over 20 CBOs to provide access to almost 40,000 COVID-19 tests and more than 6,000 COVID-19 vaccines through community testing events, pop-up clinics, and individual referrals.
  • Maine e-consult network: Increased telehealth opportunities by partnering with nine health care providers to launch shared e-consult infrastructure across 17 specialties in rural areas of the state with limited health care access, resulting in a total of 215 e-consults completed since the launch in January of 2023.
  • Rural Community Health Improvement Partnership (R-CHIP): Launched a pilot project in three rural regions (Aroostook County, Hancock and Washington counties, and Kennebec and Somerset counties) that will bring together CBOs and health care providers to better identify and address the health-related social needs of individuals in rural communities.
  • Building-ME network project: Launched a project to create a statewide system to streamline clinical placements for trainees and preceptors in rural communities. These placements will include a variety of positions and specialties, ranging from entry-level clinical support and laboratory staff to physicians, behavioral health providers, emergency responders, and dental health providers.

For a current list of awards made under this grant, visit the OPHE Health Equity Projects webpage.

These accomplishments are possible through the hard work and close collaboration of individuals across government and the private sector with a shared vision to reduce health disparities in Maine. DHHS is grateful to deepen relationships with community leaders who work tirelessly to serve their communities and looks forward to continued partnership.