Office of Health Disparities
Prepared by National Association of State
Offices of Minority Health (NASOMH)

R. Mauricio Palacio, MS
Director, Office of  Health Disparities
Colorado Department of Public Health
and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, CO  80246-1530
Phone: (303) 692-2329
Fax: (303) 691-7746

Organizational Structure/History
The Office of Health Disparities (OHD) was officially introduced in September of 2004. The ground work for the Office started in 1999 as the Colorado Turning Point Initiative, part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) national Turning Point Initiative. RWJF awarded Colorado with planning and implementation grants to build collaborative public health capacity to address health disparities. The idea for a Minority Health Advisory Commission (MHAC) was born as the health disparities leadership project of two Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership (RIHEL) Turning Point Scholars in 2002. MHAC’s first meeting took place on November 2, 2005. The Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council was modeled after Colorado’s Prevention Leadership Council and officially convened in 2006.
The Office of Health Disparities reports directly to the Chief Medical Officer, who also oversees all health divisions within the Department. This strategic positioning allows OHD to more effectively gather and share data and information about health disparities throughout the public health system and across public health programs. The OHD coordinates the Minority Health Advisory Commission, which in turn advises the department on minority health issues at the level of the department’s Executive Director. OHD also coordinates the Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council as an independent multi-agency advisory council.
The Office of Health Disparities, the Minority Health Advisory Commission, and the Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council were codified in Colorado’s statute in May of 2007 through Senate Bill 07–242.
Purpose/Mission Statement
The Colorado Office of Health Disparities is a state program of multi-cultural professionals dedicated to eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities in Colorado by fostering systems change and capacity building through multi-sectoral collaboration.
Minority Health Advisory Commission - The Minority Health Advisory Commission (MHAC) provides a formal mechanism for community members to give input on health programming at the level of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) Executive Director; helps CDPHE determine culturally innovative data collection strategies; and strengthens collaborations between CDPHE and communities of color. MHAC makes recommendations concerning the areas for which the Health Disparities Grant Program (HDGP) should focus financial support for statewide initiatives that address early detection and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and major risk factors associated with diabetes in underserved and underrepresented populations. The commission reviews grant applications for the Disparities Grant Program and makes recommendations to the state board of health regarding the entities that may receive grants, as well as the grant amounts.
Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council - The Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council provides leadership, education, and resources to comprehensively eliminate health disparities in Colorado through collaboration, consultation, research, and inclusion.
Program Focus/Activities
·       Publish data reports documenting health disparities;
·       Provide education on racial and ethnic health disparities and cultural competence;
·       Improve interpretation and translation services within public health systems;
·       Build capacity within communities to extend public health programs;
·       Conduct state-level strategic planning on minority health improvement;
·       Provide technical assistance to state health programs, local health departments,
     community-based organizations, and communities statewide;
·       Promote workforce diversity within public health systems;
·       Coordinate the Minority Health Advisory Commission;
·       Coordinate and support the Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council; and
·       Coordinate the Health Disparities Grant Program (which provides financial support
    for statewide initiatives that address prevention, early detection, and treatment of 
    cancer, cardiovascular, and pulmonary diseases in underrepresented minority
State Partnership Project Description -  The overall goal of the State Partnership project is to coordinate a three-year state health department health disparities strategic plan; a health disparities surveillance report; a new state interagency collaborative focusing on minority health-related systems integration; a pilot strategy for serving rural communities, including a satellite office of health disparities; and a state health department limited English proficiency services assessment. OHD has a wide range of partners and stakeholders that represent local health departments, Federal and State departments, academic institutions, and community/faith-based organizations.
Impact of Program Activities on Communities/Program Evaluation
Most of the Colorado Office of Health Disparities program activities focus on systems change. The Health Disparities Grant Program has funded community-based organizations to address cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary disease in racial and ethnic minorities. Many of the organizations that are funded reach the hardest to reach sub-populations (those that don’t attend mainstream community programs).
The department is currently finalizing a strategic plan that will impact how its divisions and programs work with minority communities and target program objectives and outcomes to improve the health of minority populations. The Health Disparities Leadership Council has developed a strategic plan for state agencies to use as a framework to improve the health and well being of Coloradans of color. The Office of Health Disparities is currently working on an assessment to determine how to best serve rural communities. Discussions are ongoing with public health nurses and other rural stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of the issues they face and how the office can better meet the needs of rural populations of color. Presentations on health disparities and cultural competence have been given to a multitude of agencies and community groups. Evaluations of these presentations have been very positive. Office staff has also conducted several meetings and presentations with staff from different programs in the department with the goal of engaging communities of color in planning, development, and implementation of interventions to improve the health of communities of color.
Eliminating Health Disparities Statewide Initiatives
Colorado’s Office of Health Disparities has been working on health disparities strategic planning at multiple levels. The OHD completed one of its most significant and comprehensive strategic planning efforts -- the state’s health disparities conference. The conference “Working Together: 2006 Health Disparities Conference” was successfully held in Arvada, Colorado on October 12-13, 2006. The conference included a strategic planning session to serve as a model for future local planning activities to address health disparities. A diverse group of individuals, including representation from local and state government and community-based organizations, provided input through round table discussion groups. Deliberations from group discussions were compiled into a draft summary document to assist in future strategic planning activities coordinated by the Office of Health Disparities. In addition, the summary document was submitted to the Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council to inform and enhance its collaborative efforts to address health disparities at the state level. A follow up Health Disparities Action Plan meeting was conducted in August 2007, in partnership with the Minority Health Advisory Commission and the Interagency Health Disparities Leadership Council. The council has taken the task of finalizing the strategic plan with all the input from the August meeting and plans to disseminate it to its stakeholders in 2008.
One of the Office’s more tangible initiatives to eliminate health disparities is the Health Disparities Grant Program (HDGP). OHD administers the HDGP and works closely under the advisement of the Minority Health Advisory Commission and the state’s Board of Health. OHD administrative activities for this program include: developing and issuing requests for applications, providing bidder’s conferences, coordinating grant-writing trainings, coordinating the application review process, monitoring grantee performance, approving grantee reimbursement statements, conducting grantee site visits, and coordinating grantee technical assistance referrals. The HDGP has awarded over $7.8 million to statewide initiatives that address prevention, early detection, and treatment of cancer and cardiovascular and pulmonary disease in underrepresented minority populations. To date, the program has reached over 125,000 people.
Level of Funding Sources
Year                 Federal              State             Private               

FY 2006
FY 2007     
FY 2008     

Current OHD staff includes a Director (Permanent/Full-time), Health Disparities Specialist/Team Leader (Permanent/Half-time), Program Coordinator (Permanent/Full-time), Program Assistant (Permanent/Full-time), Health Disparities Grant Program Manager (Permanent/Full-time), two contract monitors (one Permanent/Full-time and one Permanent/half-time), and a Program Evaluator (Contractual/part-time). 
Recent Publications
“Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in Colorado,” 2005
“Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in Colorado,” 2009