In October, the State held their annual Maryland Health Disparities Conference sponsored by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities (MHHD) and co-sponsored by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health and the Maryland Center for Health Equity.
“Addressing the persistent gaps and disparities that persist in our communities is one of the greatest challenges of our time and the Maryland Health Disparities Conference is an important part of that effort,” said Lt. Governor Brown. “I was happy to lead the effort to pass legislation titled Maryland Health Improvement and Disparities Reduction Act of 2012 which established the Health Enterprise Zone (HEZ) Program.”
HEZs are contiguous geographic areas that demonstrate measurable health disparities, are economically disadvantaged, and exhibit poor health outcomes. The purpose for the HEZ program is to reduce health disparities among racial and ethnic minority populations in geographic areas, improve healthcare access and health outcomes in underserved communities, reduce healthcare costs, plus reduce hospital admissions and re-admissions.
The HEZ program a four year pilot will provide $4 million per year to address health disparities by enabling underserved and isolated communities to draw on a range of incentives, benefits, and grant funding.
Once the communities are designated as HEZs, they will have access to state income tax credits, hiring tax credits, loan repayment assistance, priority entrance into the state’s Patient-Centered Medical Home Program, priority for available state EHR grant funding, and additional grant funding from the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission (CHRC).
In October, as a result of the passage of the Act, Lt. Governor Brown announced that the CHRC issued a Call for Proposals for Health Enterprise Zones (HEZ) due November 13, 2012 to be jointly administered by the CHRC and DHMH.
At this time, through the proposal process, non-profit community-based organizations and local health departments could apply for HEZ designation status. The DHMH Secretary will make the final HEZ designations by the end of 2012 and the State is expected to award two to four zones as part of the pilot program.