Get to know RHHD’s Health Equity Specialist: Cameron Foster

Cameron wins Best Dressed at RHHD! 
His shirt has images of his beloved dog, Biscuit. 

In May, RHHD welcomed a new Health Equity Specialist to our team! Cameron Foster joins us after working for the VDH Central Office as a COVID-19 investigator and vulnerable population data analyst. Cameron has a master’s in public health from Eastern Virginia Medical School and an MBA from William & Mary. He talked to us about his understanding of and hopes for this new job!

How do you think about health equity?  

A lot of people understand the main idea of health equity and why it’s important, but it’s like any big reform movement—what does it look like in practice? I try to move from the idea to action.

I break health equity down into things people can understand. Let’s think about access, for example. Are people able to find a primary care provider who takes their insurance, or who they can reach through public transportation? Do they have time to take off work to go? Are there even enough providers in the area?

What did your experiences in school and other jobs teach you about health equity?   

COVID-19 investigation was very rewarding work but also very draining work, simply because you’d be calling people at some of their worst moments. And you’d see the inequities. Take when the pandemic first started and we sent school children home with a laptop or tablet to complete work virtually. If the child didn’t have access to high-speed internet, that laptop was just a paperweight—there was no way to complete assignments.

Or if you couldn’t physically get to a location participating in the COVID-19 rollout, what good was the vaccine for you? We really needed these vaccine drives that came out to individuals at nursing homes or congregant settings like prisons to ensure that treatment was given equitably and to as many people as possible.

I also noticed inequities through academic pathways. Living in Williamsburg, I was on Medicaid because you can apply for it as a grad student, and it was very difficult for me to get treatment—there weren’t as many providers taking Medicaid. I’ve also worked as a medical assistant and a medical office administrator at a private practice. It was heartbreaking to see individuals take time out of their day to come in, and then you’d find out that insurance doesn’t cover the treatment or medication that they needed.

What are your plans for bringing more conversations about health equity to RHHD?  

It’s always good to have somebody in the room looking at challenges from a different perspective. I’m not able to examine something from every perspective, but it’s my job to find and support the people who do have those fresh perspectives. This summer, I’m going to restart RHHD’s internal equity groups. Each internal equity group is focused on a specific community or group of people—these have included groups focused on LGBTQ+ populations, Latinx and Hispanic communities, people who have experience with substance use, Black and African American populations, youth, and populations living with disabilities. What I really want is for those groups to brainstorm and propose the direction of the work. It’s important to build equity internally so that we can develop it externally—it’s a practice what you preach model.

Finally, what are you watching, reading, or listening to right now?
I’m currently making my way through the Godfather trilogy, and I just finished The Risk it Takes to Bloom by Raquel Willis. Willis is a Black trans woman who writes about the journey she takes to discover herself in the context of national events like the tragic Pulse night club shooting. Unfortunately, Black trans women often get pushed to the margins—in 2017, Willis was giving a speech at the Women’s March that was cut halfway through. Watching her share her experience of figuring out her sexual orientation and gender identity was really powerful.

Welcome to RHHD, Cameron—we’re glad you’re here!