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IDOH and Purdue University launch program aimed at closing equity gaps in healthcare access

Courtesy of Purdue University

The Indiana Department of Health and Purdue University Monday announced a new effort aimed at ensuring more equitable access to healthcare across the state.

The two-year initiative is funded through a $35 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deputy Health Commissioner and state epidemiologist Pam Pontones said the first phase of the project will include holding community conversations across the state to identify key areas of need.

“We’re really looking at -- what can we put in place to increase access?” she said. “What can we put in place to reduce any language barriers? What can we put in place to raise awareness and education for our minority and rural communities?”

Pontones said the program was developed in response to the healthcare disparities exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program, Indiana Health Opportunities for People Everywhere, or I-HOPE, will emphasize reducing health inequities in rural, ethnic and minority communities. Outreach will begin in five counties in 2022 before expanding to a total of 30 in 2023.

Those counties were identified as high-need areas based on the CDC’s COVID-19 vulnerability index.

Melanie Cline is the director of Purdue Healthcare Advisors. She said the project will take a community-based approach to understand what people need.

“We really want to engage in dialogue with community stakeholders,” she said. “We’re creating community profiles that will help us identify people, groups, organizations that are providing services in the community.”

In August, Gov. Eric Holcomb created a Public Health Commission to make policy recommendations for health system improvements.

Cline said she sees the effort of the commission as complementary to the I-HOPE program.

“While we’re going to be working at the community level, they are going to be looking at policy recommendations,” she said. “While we’re going to be bringing resources to the table to effect change immediately, what we also want to do is affect future policy.”