Here’s a recap of the most recent efforts from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) to address social determinants of health (SDoH) including racism, mental health, and equitable language access.

$4.8M in grant funding to community initiatives targeting structural racism

The agency, through the Office of Minority Health (OMH), announced last week more than $4.8 million in grants awarded to 10 community organizations tackling structural racism. The grants will support a three-year OMH initiative to address policies that perpetuate health disparities.

Over the course of the three years, recipients are expected to evaluate existing policies and practices and identify new policies that could better address existing disparities and structural racism in health care and improve health equity outcomes among racial and ethnic minority populations.  

"Structural racism affects the distribution of resources within racial and ethnic minority communities and thus may perpetuate health disparities," said Felicia Collins, M.D., deputy assistant secretary for minority health, in the announcement. "For this new initiative, we are pleased to build upon OMH's existing policy assessment efforts through the inclusion of community-focused, multi-sector coalitions. These community coalitions are critical for informing and guiding policy and practice change efforts addressing the impact of health disparities and structural racism within communities."

A $27M investment to improve support for children’s mental health care

Through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), HHS said it will invest nearly $27 million to improve children’s mental health services in emergency departments and schools. The funds will provide training for pediatricians and other children’s health care providers as well as offer providers teleconsultations with mental health experts to better diagnose and treat mental health conditions in children.

The Social Determinants of Health Policy Forum

“There should be no wrong door when it comes to children accessing the vital mental health services they need.  For that to happen, we need to support pediatricians and other health care providers in recognizing and treating mental health condition that is what today’s investments are about,” said HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson, in the announcement. "This work is critical not only to ensuring timely access to care, but also to expanding the reach of the mental health workforce.”

The Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program will award 48 organizations with a down payment of $300,000 for the expansion of services and a total of $3.2 million to three national organizations to provide grantees with technical assistance to improve mental health services provided to children.

Increased focus on removing language barriers

HHS has also announced several steps it is taking to break down language barriers and advance equitable health care and human services.

The RISE Summit on Social Determinants of Health

As part of the initiative, the agency is relaunching its Language Access Steering Committee, which will prompt all HHS agencies to evaluate and update their language access plans to ensure limited English proficient (LEP) individuals have valuable access to programs to activities provided by HHS.

Additionally, OMH announced more than $4 million in grant funding as part of the Promoting Equitable Access to Language Services in Health and Human Services initiative, which aims to evaluate and improve the strategies used to inform LEP individuals about language access services in health care settings.

“We know that people with limited English proficiency too often face discrimination when seeking health care and human services,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the statement. “The risk of misinformation, the wrong type of care, or foregoing care altogether is high when language barriers persist. We’re putting policy into action to eliminate barriers to equitable care and leave no one behind.”