Central Health’s Equity Policy Council, a collaboration of local community groups and leaders, is preparing to hone in on policy direction that will help dictate local health care initiatives in 2020.

The council is looking at three policy directives specifically, as shown to the Central Health Board of Managers at its Jan. 29 meeting.

Documents from the meeting show the council may pursue a requirement to “capture and analyze comprehensive demographic data and transparently report outcomes”; ban the sale of flavored tobacco products locally, including vaping devices and e-cigarettes; and secure the Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index Accreditation, a LGBTQ care equity benchmark for health care providers and community clinics.

Megan Cermak, manager of community and population health strategy for the Equity Policy Council, said the council will vote Feb. 4 to decide which one of the three policy directives to pursue in 2020.

The Equity Policy Council, initially launched in September 2015, is a collection of community partners that provides policy recommendations for local chronic disease prevention in Travis County with a focus on residents at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Cermak said the council is comprised of 85 members, and she expects more than 40 members to show up to vote on the policy initiatives Feb. 4. Members on the council include partners in government, the nonprofit sector and health care leaders.

One of the Equity Policy Council’s earliest policy initiatives successfully helped influence city of Austin leaders in 2017 to adopt an ordinance banning the use of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices in public places.

On Jan. 29, Cermak said the Equity Policy Council would potentially like to see tougher regulations on flavored tobacco products enacted at a local level.

In Texas, 18.9% of high school students and 6% of middle school students said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, according to a 2018 Texas Department of State Health Services report.

On Jan. 2, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a policy prohibiting the sale of flavored cartridge-based vaping devices, such as Juul, with the exception of menthol and tobacco flavors. That announcement came after President Donald Trump in September 2019 said the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services would look into banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including open-system vaping products.

“There are a lot of loopholes, and we feel there is opportunity here at a local level to make this more impactful on the people we’re trying to help,” Cermak told Central Health managers.

However, Cermak later told
Community Impact Newspaper the flavored tobacco product ban scored the lowest of the three pitched policy initiatives by the Equity Policy Council’s research team. The council’s policy tool weighs many factors, such as political and legal feasibility, Cermak said.

“For transparency, I do want the board to know that is the only one policy we know there will be organized opposition against: the tobacco industry and vape shop owners,” Cermak told Central Health managers Jan. 29.

The Human Rights Campaign Healthcare Equality Index Accreditation policy received the highest scores from the Equity Policy Council’s research team, Cermak said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign website, its accreditation “evaluates healthcare facilities' policies and practices related to the equity and inclusion of their LGBTQ patients, visitors and employees." The Health Equality Index evaluates more than 1,600 facilities nationwide.

“It’s very comprehensive, but there is some very good work that could come out of that,” Cermak said Jan. 29.

Two local health care organizations—Austin Public Health and People's Community Clinic—already have the certification, according to Cermak, and some stakeholders have expressed interest in the policy initiative early on in the process.

“There is already some momentum,” Cermak told Community Impact Newspaper. “One common theme is they all want to work on ... is to reduce stigma for their [LGBTQ] patients.”

According to Central Health documents, the Equity Policy Council interviewed more than 20 organizations and analyzed reports from more than 30 local commissions for any mention of local health care policy. This analysis helped form the policy initiatives presented to the Central Health Board of Managers on Jan. 29, Cermak said.