University of South Florida


Group of legislators surround Assoc. Professor Kyaien Conner at the capitol.

USF Associate Professor Kyaien Conner is photographed with Dr. Shamarial Roberson, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Darryl Rouson and Rep. Kamia Brown following the signing of House Bill 183.

USF mental health expert helps craft legislation signed by Gov. DeSantis that addresses inequities in health care

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation guided by Kyaien Conner, associate professor of mental health law and policy, that addresses health disparities across the state. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kamia Brown and Rep. Dotie Joseph and championed in the Senate by Sen. Darryl Rouson, is designed to improve access to health care through the creation of new initiatives and fiscal resources to support the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. Health inequities have become even more apparent in communities of color throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which have shown to have higher positivity rates with fewer individuals getting vaccinated.

Kyaien Conner

Kyaien Conner, associate professor of mental health law and policy

“There are so many health disparities that need to be addressed. People of color are more likely to be diagnosed, suffer greater morbidity (or greater disability due to illness) as well as greater mortality or premature death,” Conner said. “And this is not just with regards to one condition, but multiple conditions and across disease categories. With a focus on rigorous research, education and dissemination, synergistic initiatives targeting some of the most severe health disparities and promoting peer led services to improve cultural competency while building community capacity and self-sufficiency, these strategies will make a significant impact on the health and well-being of all Floridians, and in particular those who are the most disenfranchised.”

Included in the legislation is a $4.4 million increase for the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity to gather and analyze data so it can deploy more rigorous community outreach efforts and update information on its website each year. The office will also improve how it relays local issues to the national level by requiring county health departments to designate a liaison with the office and the office will appoint its own liaison to communicate with the federal Office of Minority Health.

Darryl Rouson

State Senator Darryl Rouson (D-19)

“I am very grateful for the creative and thoughtful assistance of USF Associate Professor Dr. Kyaien Conner in drafting this legislation,” Rouson said. “This pandemic has ripped the scab off of the wound for health disparities in minority communities. I am thankful for all involved in passing HB 183, especially the Governor for prioritizing funding this office at a historic $9.2 million dollars. Communities across this state will benefit from the work that can now be accomplished within the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity.”

Senator Rouson is a longtime advocate of improving health equity across communities of color. After reading about Conner’s research, he contacted USF requesting her assistance in developing a policy that improves the effectiveness of the Office of Minority Health and Health Equity. Earlier this year, Conner received a three-year, $2.5 million grant from the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute to examine the impact of Care Transitions Intervention, a nationally recognized program that helps patients learn self-management skills to ensure their needs are met during the transition from the hospital to their home. The study is designed to improve health outcomes and reduce hospital readmission for people of color managing chronic illnesses.

The bill takes effect July 1.

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