Equity Upstream

In the wake of longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes highlighted by the COVID pandemic, Mid-State Health Network (MSHN) responded to the moral imperative to take action to ensure access to quality care for all Region 5 residents. MSHN renewed its efforts to apply an equity lens to the broad scope of its oversight of the public behavioral health system in our 21-county region of Michigan.

Towards that end, MSHN launched the 2023 “Equity Upstream” Virtual Lecture Series & Learning Collaborative to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in Opioid Overdose Deaths by bringing in national experts who shared their perspectives on the landscape of SUD health disparities with an overview of epidemiological trends in the overdose epidemic, as well as what’s known about why disparities exist (systemic racism, implicit bias, access issues, stigma, mistrust of the medical system, cultural issues specific to communities of color, etc.). Each of the trainings can be viewed below and are recommended as sources of high quality expertise in regard to health disparities and SUD.

Beyond increasing understanding of upstream systemic issues, the intent of Equity Upstream is to catalyze action across our region and the state. Towards that end, MSHN has also launched a pilot Equity Upstream Learning Collaborative, providers who are working together to translate knowledge into action to improve access and quality of care for all populations and to reduce disparities in SUD health outcomes. These providers represent multiple levels of care in SUD prevention, treatment and recovery. There are no quick fixes to reducing health disparities and stigma that have roots in centuries of trauma and history for Native American, Black and Hispanic/LatinX residents of our region and state, but as results manifest for the pilot participants in this Learning Collaborative, MSHN will expand and extend the lessons learned to all SUD providers in our 21 counties and ultimately to the rest of Michigan and beyond.

To learn more about MSHN's efforts to improve health equity in Region 5, please reach out to Dr. Dani Meier at dani.meier@midstatehealthnetwork.org

Equity Upstream's 2023 Spring Lecture Series

Why the name "Equity Upstream?"

In a well-known parable (credited to medical sociologist Irving Zola), a villager is standing by a river where people keep floating downstream on the verge of drowning. The villager pulls each drowning person from the water but is quickly overwhelmed. Moreover, the urgency of the need prevents the villager from traveling upstream to determine how these people keep falling into the water in the first place. Finally, joined by other villagers, some continue to focus on the immediate need to save those at risk of drowning while others head upstream to identify and address the source of the crisis. 

MSHN recognizes that "rescuing the drowning" is critical. To stem overdose deaths, we must reach out and treat those currently misusing substances. At the same time, we acknowledge that there are upstream variables that contribute to certain populations being at higher risk to SUDs and poor health outcomes, including geographically specific social determinants of health and structural factors like systemic racism, implicit bias, access issues, mistrust of the medical system, and cultural issues specific to certain populations.

MSHN's Equity Upstream initiative, therefore, adopts a comprehensive long view of culture, community, history and geography to best understand the SUD and overdose epidemics nationally and locally and to address health disparities in ways that can improve health outcomes across the diversity of Region 5's 21 counties.