PHC Annual Meeting Addresses Health Equity

The Public Health Council Board of Directors hosted their Annual Meeting on Friday, November 16th, despite the first snow storm of the season. Only a small portion of the people who expected to attend decided to stay home, for which we are very grateful. Many thanks also go to Hypertherm’s technology team members, who allowed us to connect with Heidi Klein, our Keynote Speaker, remotely so that she did not have to travel from Burlington, Vermont, through the snow.

Meeting Dedication

This year the Board of Directors dedicated this meeting to the memory of Laura Cody McNaughton. Laura joined our Board of Directors last January before she was tragically killed in an automobile crash in June. Laura served as the District Director for the White River Junction Office of the Vermont Department of Health. She was noted for her kind and collaborative spirit and her dedication to addressing health disparities in our region. She is missed by all who knew and worked with her.

Conducting Business

The Annual Meeting is where the Board of Directors elects new members and officers. This year we welcomed Matthew Cole to the Board and bid farewell to Nate Miller. The Board Treasurer, Bob Kingman, presented a financial review of 2018 and the proposed budget for 2019, which was approved. We thank all the foundations, corporations, municipalities, and individuals who provide the financial support the Public Health Council relies on for our operations.

What brought most people to the Annual Meeting, however, was the chance to hear Heidi Klein, Director of Planning and Health Care Quality at the Vermont Department of Health, discuss developing the Vermont State Health Assessment and Plan with a focus on health equity. We invited Ms. Klein to speak because we hoped to learn from Vermont’s experience as we move towards developing a new Community Health Improvement Plan for the Upper Valley. The Upper Valley, like Vermont as a whole, struggles to recognize, understand, and address the diversity and disparities that exist here. We hope to do a better job in this next community health improvement plan of addressing health equity.

So what did Heidi share with us about the Vermont planning experience?

Heidi Klein, MSPH

When developing their state health assessment and plan, the Vermont Department of Health generally looks at two questions: What do we know about the health of Vermonters? And what are we going to do about it? When they thought about how to explore the root causes of health outcomes, especially in populations affected more or less by some outcomes, they realized the importance of understanding inequity. According to Heidi, “This means we are now looking at very different data than before. Before, the assessment showed what we were seeing, but not why.”

When they looked at the data to understand what populations were most affected by poor health outcomes, they identified the LGBTQ community, people of color, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty. They also realized the need for qualitative data – stories – to more fully understand what was driving the inequity. So, when it came time to identify strategies, they added a new step to the process. Instead of ending with partner engagement to determine readiness for action, they moved on the working with people experiencing inequity to explore where there are shared agendas. This entire exercise – which is not yet complete – changed a 1-year process to a 2-year process, but the Vermont Department of Health had the courage and the wisdom to recognize it as the right thing to do.

Inequity = Differences in health outcomes that are avoidable, unfair, and shaped by condition of people’s lives related to the distribution of money, power and resources.

Ms. Klein has generously shared several resources, including her presentation slides. She also suggests reviewing two resources she referred to in her talk:

More About Heidi Klein

Heidi serves as the Director of Planning and Health Care Quality at the Vermont Department of Health. She possesses over 25 years of experience in public health practice, public engagement, and collaborative planning. She worked with leaders at the national, state and local level, to design programs and policies which recognize the interconnection between public health, environmental protection and economically vibrant communities.  Heidi’s current position includes: strategic planning and performance management; development of the State Health Assessment and State Health Improvement Plan; integration of public health programs, including, the State Office of Rural Health in health system reforms; and workforce development.

The Public Health Council Board thanks Heidi and the partners and new friends who braved the storm to join us at this Annual Meeting. For more information about the Public Health Council, please visit our website at or reach out to Alice Ely, Executive Director, at

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