DHEC Recognizes Black History Month

As we celebrate Black History Month this February, DHEC would like to take this opportunity to honor the past and present achievements of African Americans who have and are making a difference in the  environmental, health care and public health fields.

To help us in this pursuit, we have worked with our programs and will be featuring individuals throughout this month who have worked to help achieve our shared vision of healthy people living in healthy communities. This includes a featured post each week highlighting the past and current work of African Americans who have made and/or are making a difference in the Palmetto State and beyond, including members of our own DHEC team.

Before we kick off our month-long series, we wanted to share some of the important work being done by our staff at DHEC to help to address existing health and environmental disparities and improve the quality of life for African Americans and other South Carolinians across our great state.

Addressing-Preexisting Disparities
While we have made progress in our work toward our vision of South Carolina as a state where healthy people – people of all races and ethnicities, ages and genders, and across all parts of our great state – live in healthy communities, there are still significant disparities in health outcomes that exist across our state. For example, African American women are more likely to suffer adverse outcomes during pregnancy and childbirth, and their children are more likely to die in the first year of life. In addition, as noted by First Steps, African American and Hispanic children are much less likely to be ready for first grade than their peers.

Additionally, a recent analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates racial and ethnic minority communities are particularly vulnerable to the greatest impacts of climate change such as flooding and severe storms. African American individuals are also 10% more likely to live in areas with the highest projected damages from inland flooding. Further, those in a lower socioeconomic status have worse outcomes across a number of health indicators. Even still, DHEC is convinced that by working together with our many partners, we can overcome these disparities and realize the goal of every individual having the opportunity to achieve their full health potential.

That’s why DHEC is focused on continuing to work with its partners and communities to continue to organize thoughtful community efforts aimed at removing barriers to improving health and environmental outcomes and fostering conditions in which people can thrive.

Examples of this work included:

  • DHEC’s Environmental Justice Strong programorEJ Strong, in which DHEC works collaboratively with low-income and minority communities in South Carolina to understand, promote and integrate approaches that provide meaningful and measurable improvements to public health and the environment. DHEC’s EJ Strong and partners have developed a holistic Community-Managed Disaster Risk Reduction training focused on hurricanes, flooding, chemical releases and pandemics. The training has been piloted with participants from communities across South Carolina, including African American communities.
  • Work to address food insecurity through collaborative partnerships like those between DHEC’s EJ Strong and Clemson University which resulted in the creation of a Food Access Map. This virtual resource offers locations of food pantries, farmers’ markets, United Way Offices, DHEC locations and the South Carolina Department of Social Services offices throughout the state. In addition, DHEC is working with FoodShare SC in four communities in the Pee Dee to provide more fruits and vegetables to their residents. In 2021 and 2022, over 10,000 fruit and vegetable boxes were distributed in Dillon, Lee, Marlboro and Williamsburg counties.
  • DHEC is utilizing a major portion of a federal Health Equity grant to work with five partners across the state — S.C. State University (SCSU), the University of South Carolina (USC) College of Nursing, the USC Center for Rural & Primary Healthcare, Primary Health Care Association of South Carolina and the S.C. Office of Rural Health — to address COVID-19 related health disparities and advance health equity. With a portion of the health equity grant, SCSU, DHEC and partners conducted listening sessions to gather information, shared information with underserved populations and collected important COVID-19 data. These sessions have also included addressing misinformation and the stigma concerning COVID-19 in African American and underserved communities.
  • The USC College of Nursing, DHEC and partners are working to increase the number of nurses from African American and underserved communities to address the strain COVID-19 has placed on the health care system and to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the field of nursing.  
  • With the USC Center for Rural & Primary Healthcare, DHEC and partners, health education and resources have increased in five rural libraries to address inequities and disparities in underserved communities related to COVID-19 and other comorbidities, such as diabetes and sickle cell disease.
  • The Primary Health Care Association of South Carolina, DHEC and partners continues to work toward increasing the capacity of pharmacy-based immunizers within state health centers to provide greater access to COVID-19 vaccines in underserved communities.
  • The S.C. Office of Rural Health, DHEC and partners have worked to spread COVID-19 awareness, increase testing and vaccinations and strengthen public health infrastructure in rural and underserved communities to address COVID-19 health disparities and advance health equity in those communities.  

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