Empowering Public Health: Washington State’s Journey to Equity and Advocacy

In a recent discussion, Megan Moore, the executive director of the Washington State Public Health Association, shed light on the organization’s influential advocacy efforts. With a commitment to securing funding for essential public health services and declaring racism as a public health crisis, WSPHA has not only successfully garnered substantial financial backing but has also taken the lead in launching initiatives aimed at addressing crucial disparities within the state’s health systems.

Funding for Public Health

WSPHA’s advocacy journey is shaped by a focus on securing statewide funding for foundational public health systems and has spanned over two decades. A turning point came in 2022, when a coalition of organizations spearheaded by WSPHA managed to secure sustained funding for the state’s governmental public health systems amounting to $325 million every two years. This victory not only marked a milestone for WSPHA, but also represented a pivotal moment for public health in Washington State. One of the advocacy strategies the executive director emphasized was adopting a nuanced message making it “clear to not ask legislators to fund the whole system.” Instead, they prioritize foundational public health services by directing resources to areas of most urgent need, such as reproductive resolution, gender affirming care, tribal behavioral health systems, housing, workforce, access to education, and the climate crisis, while also contributing to strengthening the overall public health framework.

A Focus on Health Equity

The organization’s approach extends beyond acquiring funding. One of the priorities for WSPHA’s advocacy work is its dedication to addressing racism as a public health crisis. During the 2023 legislative session, the organization focused on updating Purchase, Use and Possession of tobacco laws to make the tobacco industry account for selling to minors and to reduce interactions between youth of color and law enforcement. They also successfully passed a policy work plan recognizing racism as a critical issue that requires targeted intervention. In conversation with Megan, she highlighted the importance of this resolution, emphasizing its role in shaping the organization’s policy positions and actions. The approach is both strategic and collaborative, with a focus on rectifying disparities faced by Washington State’s Indigenous communities, such as opioid-related deaths and issues related to mental health.

Partnership and Impact

In line with its commitment to equity, WSPHA has established various partnerships, notably with the American Indian Health Commission, a crucial ally in advancing public health initiatives, with a focus on addressing the challenges faced by Indigenous American communities. The foundation of this collaboration dates back to personal relationships, with former President Adrian Dominguez working to establish connections among tribal groups such as the Seattle Indian Health Board and various tribes. He led WSPHA’s active engagement with these groups during the resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis. The next year, JanMarie Ward, the President and a private consultant for AIHC, worked to enhance the voice of tribal health within WSPHA. This included featuring tribal health prominently in the 2023 conference, inviting tribal elders, and celebrating their contributions during sessions. Currently in her role as the executive director, Megan highlights the ongoing work to build and maintain this relationship between her organization and the AIHC. She emphasizes her meeting with Vicki Lowe, the director of AIHC, and their joint efforts to tackle opioid use and overdoses among tribal communities. The partnership is built on personal connections and aims to increase tribal member representation on the Board, involve tribal experts in discussions, and promote inclusivity at conferences.

“The AIHC and tribes are ahead of the game in Washington state. A lot of them have their own lobbyists and they’re doing their work,” Megan states, highlighting the commendable efforts of these tribes in leading the way on various advocacy fronts. According to Megan, WSPHA recognizes tribes as active contributors and leaders in shaping the racism resolution policy plans, stating that, “what really helped is that this racism resolution, we allow the tribes to help, to not only provide feedback, but edit it and like have a heavy hand in creating it.” This acknowledgment and collaboration highlight the organization’s dedication to shared leadership with the Indigenous people of Washington who are marginalized.

WSPHA’s collaborations go beyond tribal partnerships. The organization actively engages with groups, forming partnerships with organizations focused on climate solutions, firearm safety, and protecting natural resources. These partnerships have expanded the organization’s reach, allowing it to contribute meaningfully to discussions on broader public health issues. One notable event in WSPHA’s advocacy calendar is the 2024 Hill Day, where they successfully brought together 170 participants, including students. This event not only showcased the growing enthusiasm and support for public health initiatives, but also demonstrated the positive impact of secured funding by enabling the organization to expand its advocacy efforts.

In addition to hosting impactful events, WSPHA keeps the public informed through various channels. One remarkable resource is their engaging podcast, hosted by Megan, providing exclusive updates directly from the legislature, insider scoops, and valuable guidance on how to use your voice for health.

The Washington State Public Health Association is centering equity in their advocacy in order to create a healthier Washington for all. Their commitment to securing public health funds, addressing racism, and fostering partnerships reflect a comprehensive approach to public health. As the organization continues to adapt and navigate through changing circumstances, its dedication remains unwavering in promoting health equity and creating a future where all communities thrive across Washington State.

About the Author

Ursula Oguejiofor is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she earned her master’s in public health with a concentration in Epidemiology. Currently serving as an Affiliate Affairs Specialist at the American Public Health Association, Ursula brings a wealth of expertise and dedication to her role. 

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