Company: VT LEND University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine
Diversity Team Name: Health Disparities and Cultural Competence (HDCC) Group
Diversity Team Leader: Maria Mercedes Avila, PhD, MSW, MED
The Health Disparities and Cultural Competence (HDCC) group was founded in 2015 under a federal grant and since then, the group has secured funding to continue its work within the state, regionally, and nationally. HDCC oversees multiple federal and state programs related to substance abuse prevention, mental health promotion, neurodevelopmental disabilities, refugee and immigrant health, and most recently, in culturally responsive approaches to Genomic DNA testing with underserved communities.
HDCC’s 16-member group is housed under the Vermont Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program (VT LEND) at the University of Vermont. Ninety-five percent of HDCC’s members represent fifteen racially and ethnically diverse communities, including refugee, immigrant, Middle-Eastern, and two Native American communities, making it a model for diversity within the region and nationally.
HDCC’s mission is to advocate for health equity in the state and nationally, and ensure all communities have equitable access to opportunities in housing, education, employment, health care, and supports within social contexts. The group has helped inform policies related to cultural and linguistic competence, language access, and culturally responsive service provision.
Most recently, the group was an integral part of Governor’s Act 80 related to workforce development and diversity to help identify pathways for foreign- born physicians and other health care workers to be recertified and able to practice in the United States. HDCC’s goals include 1) providing guidance to translation and interpretation services and best practices related to language access, 2) advancing knowledge related to best practices in working with cultural brokers and community outreach workers, 3) serving as content experts and community voices on social determinants of health, 4) sharing information, knowledge, and training with the wider underserved and unserved communities, and 5) creating a safe and inclusive space for communities to discuss health equity and related issues.
HDCC’s members take personal responsibility as mentors and leaders for their own communities, bringing knowledge, training, and experience back and sharing with the HDCC team current issues affecting their populations. Many members are physicians and allied health care workers who provide training and community learning sessions on topics related to substance use prevention, mental health promotion, and suicide prevention. This training has reached more than 3000 community members.
HDCC’s work has been featured in local news outlets and at the North American Refugee Health conference, the Association of University Centers on Disability (AUCD) annual events, and most recently, at the Vermont Care Partners Annual Health Equity conference, where the group released a health care disparities documentary and educational module.
HDCC has been awarded numerous grants over the years, including a prestigious Frymoyer grant that made the aforementioned documentary possible. The group has been recognized under VT LEND with two state and national awards: 2018 Green Mountain Self-Advocates Ally of the Year Award Recognition for outstanding partnerships with self-advocates across the state; and the 2018 AUCD National Multicultural Council Leadership in Diversity Award.
HDCC’s innovative approaches to diversity and meaningful community collaboration and partnership have been highlighted regularly as effective and best practice models in community participatory and engagement work, reaching thousands of community members annually.