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Health Equity Office
The vast and perpetual strength of North Dakota lies in its ability to take care of its citizens. The state's long-term investment in health has been rewarded in more ways than one with its promotion of a Healthy North Dakota initiative that began in 2002. The initiative brings a certain amount of pride in knowing any progress in health care will increase a person's life span and improve upon the quality of life for all citizens of North Dakota. However, when one measures progress on a health-care scale, it's recognized that certain disparities appear in the health and welfare of certain segments of the population. For instance, not all North Dakotans enjoy health and health-care equity. With the growing Native American, immigrant, refugee and migrant populations, the state is developing a diverse society of extensive cultural, educational, economic and language differences that may hamper the ability of some groups to participate in the improvements of health enjoyed by many in the state.
The inability of certain stakeholders to participate in the improvements of health has reinforced and motivated the North Dakota Department of Health through its Health Equity Office to act on behalf of these disparate groups. In answer to these inequities, a statewide multicultural partnership of collaboration and coordination has being developed to improve the health of these stakeholders. The Health Equity Office is guided by the goals adopted by the Department of Health to assist local groups in planning better health care for the communities. There is broad quality of life issues rooted in economic adversity and poor social conditions that impact the various groups. It stands to reason that members of affected communities are needed to train those working in disparities, guide planning efforts, and develop effective interventions. Therefore, the challenge for the Health Equity Office is threefold:
Health disparities efforts began in the1990s to coincide with the national emphasis on health. The movement for healthier North Dakotans began with the Department of Health taking steps that recognized and created strategies to provide awareness of inequities in health and access. Governor John Hoeven, in 2002, declared health to be one of six pillars of his plan for North Dakota. This declaration helped certain groups to take the lead to address health disparities. In the North Dakota Department of Health, a disparities work group was formed with membership from three state agencies: the North Dakota Department of Health, the Office of Indian Affairs Commission, and the North Dakota Department of Human Services. The disparities work group mission was to "provide leadership to raise the awareness of and to eliminate health disparities affecting North Dakota citizens." The definition of health disparities the members to which agreed is described in this comprehensive statement that allows the inclusion of additional groups as they are identified: "Health disparities in North Dakota are defined as inequalities in health status, utilization or access due to structural, financial, personal or cultural barriers."
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