Rhonda Capello shows Dr. Nat Fondell a photo of her new prosthetic legs. On Medicaid, she’s battled addiction and is among the hundreds of thousands in underserved communities in Oregon. (Photo by La Clinica)

The Oregon Health Authority will give $31 million to nonprofits, churches and other community organizations to reduce health care inequities in the state. 

The grants aim to help the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who identify as people of color or those with disabilities, have no permanent home, belong to a tribe, are elderly or part of the LGBTQ community. During the pandemic, racial and ethnic minorities and seniors suffered the worst outcomes from Covid, according to health authority data, accentuating health disparities.

“OHA acknowledges that racism, settler colonialism and historic and contemporary injustices have created policies and programs that led to unfair and unjust health inequities over time,” the agency said in a release. “In centering community strengths and wisdom for health, this grant opportunity supports community-based organizations as partners in Oregon’s public health system.”

The agency has a goal of eliminating health inequities by 2030. The health authority hopes grants will spur community organizations to focus on eight key areas where the state has fallen short, including adolescent health, tobacco prevention, overdose prevention and environmental public health.

The agency approved applications from 147 organizations that span the state. Adelante Mujeres, for example, which advocates for Latinas in Washington County, will work on bolstering heath resources in schools and improving adolescent health. 

Other community groups serve several counties. Medicine Wheel Recovery Services, which offers outpatient treatment for addiction and mental health issues, covers Benton, Columbia, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Harney, Jefferson, Klamath, Lane, Lincoln, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Umatilla, Wallowa, Wasco, Washington and Yamhill counties.

The organizations “have the power to reach communities the state may not be able to reach,” according to an email from Jonathan Modie, lead spokesman for the health authority. Public health experts with state and county health departments will work with them.

“We expect to see communities thrive, and we expect to reach our goal,” Modie wrote.

As part of its strategic plan to end health inequities, the health authority is trying to strengthen its relationships with groups that are connected to marginalized communities to let them lead the process.

The projects will be funded through June 2023 but the agency has not yet determined how much each organization will get. It will determine the amounts after working with recipients on their budgets and plans, Modie said.

The agency expects the groups to work with local public health officials, in particular, to strengthen health education and communication, identify community priorities, support prevention efforts and develop policies. 

A liaison specialist will coordinate communication and work among the state, schools, providers, local public health officials and others, Modie said.

The organizations will be required to report their activity and spending, which OHA will monitor. Modie did not provide any more details about how the state will ensure the money is well spent. 

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