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Advancing health equity: Case studies of health equity practice in four award-winning California health departments

The California Endowment recently honoured four California health departments – representing counties of varying size – for their work in advancing health equity. The awards were presented as part of a larger effort to recognize and further progress among local health departments – including the organizations and regional coalitions they work with – that are engaging in innovative work to address health inequities. The goal is to help set a new standard of health equity practice among health departments by showcasing effective initiatives that can serve as examples for others, as well as providing funds to bolster promising approaches. Three awards came with a companion grant of $25,000, and the Arnold X. Perkins Award for Outstanding Health Equity Practice had an accompanying grant of $100,000.

The case studies explore successes, challenges, visions for the future, and lessons learned in efforts to ensure health equity. Each case study includes a description of local partnerships, outcomes to date, and the role of the public health department. In addition to a written description of the projects, each case study has a video link to help tell their story. Projects include education, child care, community economic development, population health status reporting, accessible public health services, parks and recreation, and housing affordability.

The report ends with a summary of lessons learned, including:

  1. Name it – it’s important to describe work improving health outcomes for everyone as health equity work
  2. Build internal staff understanding of health equity and their capacity to address it – this includes breaking down silos, asking questions, learning from others and getting creative with funding
  3. Collaborate – by building relationships, by challenging the community but not trying to change them, showing how it’s a win-win, knowing when to lead and when to step back, bringing the data, keeping the community engaged, and being patient
  4. Engage the public through strategic use of media – by engaging journalists and finding ways to share “authentic voices” of people with lived experience.

Use this resource to:

  • Find examples of public health action to improve health equity to support their own planning and evaluation
  • Facilitate discussion about how to strengthen organizational capacity to engage the community
  • Bring together key stakeholders to explore opportunities for public health to support collaborative action to redress health inequities


Gehlert, H. (2015). Advancing Health Equity: Case studies of health equity practice in four award-winning California health departments. Berkley Media Studies Group, a project of the Public Health Institute, and The California Endowment. Retrieved from:

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Tags: Case study

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