RICHMOND — Virginia ranked 14th in United Healthcare’s annual America’s Health Rankings report.
The state saw a 14% decline in the number of uninsured adults between 2019 and 2021. However, the state has some areas where it could improve. Between 2014 and 2021, Virginia saw a 47% increase in the number of adults in frequent mental distress.
Sandra Serna, director of the office of health equity at the Virginia Department of Health, thinks as good as Virginia’s ranking is, there is still room for improvement. She described some of the work being done with building the state’s healthcare workforce.
“We do a lot around health care workforce incentive programs and initiatives to get providers of a variety of types,” Serna explained. “Not just behavioral health, but primary care and other specialties into areas of the Commonwealth where there may be a health care provider shortage.”
During the pandemic, the Department of Health developed the Prayers and Prevention Program, which provided mini-grants to faith-based organizations to inform their congregations about the pandemic and ensure people get COVID-19 vaccines. She hopes community leaders can continue to fill the information gap created by the pandemic.
Serna is eager to see numerous programs come to fruition to bridge any gaps in health equity throughout the state, but is concerned after the pandemic, public health workers are burned out.
She also wants to address the health disparities which existed prior to the pandemic. However, Serna stressed the future of rural Virginia’s health goes beyond health policy.
“We also give, in the office of health equity, mini grants to nonprofit entities in the rural parts of the state,” Serna pointed out. “As well to help them address what we at the VDH would call the social determinants of health.”
The grants address issues like housing, food insecurity, community safety and social connection. Overall, Serna wants to ensure people are getting the health care they need, after the pandemic kept people from going to their doctors.