A recently created foundation has announced two large grants focused on closing health disparities in the state.
The $1 million in funding will go to the Health Equity Compact and the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, two organizations led by industry leaders of color in Massachusetts that are working to address health and economic inequities caused by systemic racism.
Supporting these organizations is a part of the foundation’s larger goal of “closing the huge and unacceptable gaps in life expectancy across neighborhoods in Eastern Massachusetts,” said Dr. Ann Hwang, a primary care physician and the newly announced president of The Atrius Health Equity Foundation. “They have really raised the bar in the conversation about health equity in Massachusetts and strongly align with the foundation’s values.”
A recent report by the Boston Public Health Commission found pervasive disparities in life expectancy across Boston’s neighborhoods and communities, identifying a 22-year age gap between a census tract in Roxbury and a census tract in Back Bay. Researchers also found that Black and Hispanic communities continue to disproportionately struggle with higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses tied to poorer access to adequate housing, food, and other social determinants of health.
“The grant is a huge statement saying, ‘We want to be a part of the solution to finally address these issues,’ ” said Michael Curry, cofounder of the Health Equity Compact, a coalition of more than 70 diverse health care and business executives, which will receive $500,000. He said the grant will be used to fund more staff, research, and to facilitate collaboration across health institutions.
The New Commonwealth Fund, an organization of diverse business executives working to reform structural inequities facing minority communities, will use its $500,000 in funding to provide “immediate, unrestricted” financial support to Black and brown-led community organizations advancing health equity in their communities, according to a press release.
The Atrius Health Equity Foundation was created in 2022 during the acquisition of the physicians’ group Atrius Health by Optum, the provider arm of UnitedHealth Group, a large national health organization that includes the health insurer UnitedHealthcare. The grants are just the beginning of the foundation’s plan to invest its estimated $150 million in assets to advance equitable health care across the state.
The organization aims to issue the bulk of this funding by 2030 to meet the “urgency” of these needs, according to a press release. To achieve this aim, Hwang said its staff will conduct “a listening tour” across communities and cities disproportionately facing poorer health outcomes in the coming months to gather feedback from residents ahead of its future grant-making.
“We strongly believe the people who work and live in communities are best positioned to know what is needed to make changes,” she said. “So [this work] starts with community consultation.”