New commissioner questions health department’s equity training

SHARON MCBRAYER Personal Writer

A presentation by a health department employee to county commissioners about the county’s latest health assessment led one of his newest board members to rail against communism, Marxism and critical race theory.

Chae Moore, public health education supervisor for the Burke County Health Department, told the Burke County Board of Commissioners Tuesday during the pre-agenda meeting on Burke’s 2022 Community Health Assessment. it said 2,149 people responded, double the response from the 2019 Community Health Assessment.

Moore told the council that key findings from the surveys and focus groups told them that mental health, obesity with risk factors, substance use disorder, lack of affordable housing, health literacy or cultural competence and transportation were issues in Burke County.

The Burke Wellness Initiative, along with other community members, has narrowed down the top three priority areas of focus for the next three years, Moore said.

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The top three priority areas are mental health, which was also on the list in the 2016 Community Health Assessment, substance use disorder, which has been on the list for the past seven years, and risk, Moore said.

She and the Burke Wellness Initiative will develop a community health improvement plan to be presented later this year. The group will look at what programs currently exist that address the three issues in the county, what programs can be improved, and what can be developed to address the three issues, Moore said.

Moore went on to expand on some of the health assessment findings and then asked the board if they had any questions.

Commissioner Phil Smith, who was elected to the board in November, was the first to speak and challenged the health department’s equity team, which is mentioned in the health assessment document that was submitted to the board.

“I see words there, equity is one of them, cultural bias, health equity, cultural competence and health care. How do we get the equity impact we want?” Smith said. “Coming from an old conservative who knows a little about the Constitution and taught about Western civilization, it sounds a lot like critical race theory and social justice, which are two tenets of communism and Marxism”.

Nowhere in the paper is critical race theory mentioned.

According to Moore and the filing, the health department accepted a two-year Advancing Equity grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

The assessment states that the Department of Health established an internal equity team and found that staff possessed a basic understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion, but could benefit from external health equity training. In the spring of 2022, the health department partnered with an outside equity advisory firm, Charlotte-based Work for Change LLC, according to the health assessment. Work for Change led health department staff in discussions about cultural biases, health equity, cultural competence in health care, organizational identity along with communication, and how to achieve the desired equity impact, says the health assessment.

The health evaluation says that during the grant’s two years, the health department needed to take a deeper dive into its internal and external equity practices.

Smith also took issue with the Work for Change group and asked who invited them and if there was any oversight of what the organization was teaching.

Moore said the group has tailored a specific lesson plan for each particular group. He said equity was why they had the training and the training was one of the grant requirements.

“But we also want to create an environment at the Department of Health where if anyone, regardless of where they go within the county, if they’re being abused, for whatever reason, they come to us and get the best care possible,” Moore said. “That’s really the bottom line of what we’re trying to achieve, so just fairness and how we interact with each other as staff members, but then also fairness and how we interact with the public was our main goal”.

Burke County Health Department Director Danny Scalise assured the board that critical race theory, nor Marxism, was not part of the training or training conversation.

“So we look at different populations that are in this community and a lot of times we’re the place that cares for them,” Scalise said. “And we have to understand if it’s the Guatemalans who have come here or the elderly, we look at the health of the population in these things.”

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