Sunday, September 21, 2008

Barbershops become urban community health centers

Barbershops become urban community health centers
Thu Sep 18, 2008 3:10pm EDT
By Terri Coles

TORONTO (Reuters) - African-American communities in the shadows of the University of Pittsburgh's buildings are getting sick and dying sooner than their white counterparts, of preventable diseases -- and Dr. Stephen Thomas wants to change it.

An outreach initiative involving local barbershops and beauty salons is a step in that direction.
Epidemiological data shows that African-Americans suffer a higher burden of premature illness and death than Caucasians, said Thomas, director of the university's Center for Minority Health. They have higher rates of infant mortality, HIV/AIDS and mental illness. HIV is the leading cause of death among African-Americans 25 to 44, for example, and rates of death from cardiovascular disease are 30 percent higher in black adults than white adults, according to the American Medical Student Association. Diabetes is 70 percent more prevalent in blacks than whites, and prostate cancer hits African-American men 66 percent more frequently than Caucasian men, with twice the death rate.

Pittsburgh is not unique in this, Thomas pointed out - there are black communities around universities across the United States where residents have higher rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease. "Simply because they are geographically close does not mean they benefit from the technology that's there," he said of the schools.

But although the disparity has been measured, we don't fully know why it exists, or how to remove it, Thomas said. Culturally appropriate strategies to address and attack the health disparities between blacks and whites are needed, he said.

To that end, the Center for Minority Health has created Take a Health Professional to the People Day, which falls on September 18 this year, its seventh. The program works to bridge the academic community and African-American neighborhoods in Pittsburgh by developing a health partnership that involves neighborhood barbershops and beauty salons and their staff and owners as lay health advocates, Thomas said.

The program works with ten barbershops and salons in the city, and 200 Pittsburgh health professionals have signed up to visit the shops on Take a Health Professional to the People Day to provide health screening to people in the surrounding neighborhoods. The screening goes from basic exams to cancer screening directly in the barbershops with blood tests and rectal digital exams, Thomas explained. Last year the participating health professionals were able to screen 700 people in one day; with more signed up this year, he expects they'll be able to see a higher number of patients this year.

Private insurers will also be on-site at the barbershops in order to take people through signing up for private insurance. Many people qualify for insurance, Thomas said, but have never had someone help them through the complicated process of applying.
The work goes beyond the one-day screening, however. Barbers are trained in CPR and the use of automatic defibrillators, for example, and serve as conduits for getting health information out to community members.

The outreach effort is focusing on barbershops because they serve as meeting places in African-American communities, where the conversation frequently strays from hair and the owners are seen as leaders in the community.

"No conversation goes without commentary," Thomas said, recalling one incident in a barbershop that underscored why they can be such a powerful tool. A man who had recently had a heart attack was getting his hair cut, and he, the barber and the shop patrons were discussing the new medication he had been prescribed. The barber pointed out that the pills might prevent him from keeping up his "obligations," referring to the possibility of erectile dysfunction as a side effect of the medication.

He could tell by the look on the man's face during the conversation that with that knowledge, he wasn't going to take the pills, Thomas said. "That's when we realized that a barber can have more credibility than a doctor."

A lack of trust of health professionals among African-Americans is part of what is keeping them at a disadvantage, Thomas said. Much of that mistrust stems from the infamous Tuskegee experiment in which poor black men with syphilis were left untreated for decades.
That notorious episode eventually led to increased protection for clinical trial participants, but the effects of it are still seen in black communities today, Thomas said. President Clinton formally apologized for the clinical trial in 1997, and that began a change, he said, but more still needs to be done to reach these communities through their mistrust. "We believe that it's time for atonement."

The program has partnered with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., which offers a credit course studying health disparity that uses Take a Health Professional to the People Day as an urban immersion experience for its graduate students.

The field work involved in the trip to Pittsburgh for Take a Health Professional to the People Day helps health professionals understand the realities of health disparities and gain cultural confidence, said Dr. W. Charles Huskins, associate director for the Mayo Clinic Center for Translational Science Activities in Rochester, Minnesota. It also allows them to see first-hand some strategies for engaging the community in prevention initiatives.

The feedback has been incredible so far, Huskins said while in Pittsburgh. "They're seeing things that they would not necessarily have seen in Rochester," he said.

Increasing the diversity among health professional is an important step towards engaging communities in public health and their own care, said Dr. Eddie Greene, director of Health Disparities curriculum development and director of the Office of Diversity at Mayo Clinic Rochester. But it is also important to make sure that health professionals who are already working have that same sensitivity, he said, and initiatives like Take a Health Professional to the People Day and the Mayo Clinic's course help to achieve that cultural competence.
Thomas, Huskins and Greene hope the program in Pittsburgh can serve as a model for expansion to other parts of the country and other groups, such as Native Americans, Hispanics and rural Americans, who also experience health care disparities. With their programs and Take a Health Professional to the People, the University of Pittsburgh and the Mayo Clinic want to be a role model of cooperation for other institutions surrounded by minority communities dying from things they are experts in, Thomas said. "That is no longer acceptable morally, and it is no longer acceptable scientifically."

How do you think health disparities can be reduced? Let us know:
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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A letter of invitation to Join Academy for Health Equity

A letter of invitation from Dr. Ilana Mittman,
Kellogg Fellows in Health Policy Research Program alumna

Dear Colleagues: Do any of you feel that you are tired of reading, hearing and conversing about health disparities? That you know that these are indisputable and that the time has come to DO something about them? Well, I do. I have just had a life changing experience.

I have been to the inaugural meeting of the Academy of Health Equity in Denver Colorado. There, in the Mile High city I realized that I was witnessing a historic moment. More than two hundred and fifty health equity advocates from around the country gathered almost on a moment 's notice to be part of moving the health disparity elimination agenda forward.

The meeting started with ceremonial multicultural drums representing rituals of indigenous groups of the four corners of our great nation. The ceremony ended with all drumming to same beat.

My heart was pounding and my eyes tearing up as I was reminded again, that we are all part of humanity and that on this planet we are tightly connected. This unique meeting was phenomenal given the short time of planning. The orchestrators of the Academy are health equity advocates who felt that health disparity elimination efforts have yielded limited results and that it is time to bring together all stakeholders and the enormous data in existence to create an-going forum.

The palpable change in the political climate in the nation (yes, change we can believe in) made Academy members realize that the time is now. In a nutshell, the sentiment of the Academy (if I understand it correctly) is that if we focus our collective resources we will create a momentum that can reach further than any disjointed efforts to foster sweeping changes around the nation in assuring health equity to all Americans.

While in Denver meeting participants were invited to join the Academy as Founding Members. I must say that after I heard Dr. La Veist and Dr. Thomas speak, I charged out the room asking "how do I join?" One other participant (a daughter of a civil rights activist) echoed my sentiments when she said "I have been waiting for something like this all my life." Meeting participants recommended that the invitation to join as founding members expands to persons who were not there.

Founding members will communicate via Listservs on forming and joining workgroups and shaping the vision and mission of this fellowship. My colleagues, I feel that our collective voices, drive, creativity and passion to make a difference should be added to this unprecedented initiative.

I urge you all to join. And I believe that the time is now!

Ilana S Mittman, PhD
Kellogg Health Disparity Scholar

Sunday, June 29, 2008

First Annual Academy for Health Equity Meeting to Address Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities

PITTSBURGH, June 25 – Eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities is one of the goals of Healthy People 2010, the nation’s roadmap to improving the health of all Americans. To address this challenge, the Center for Minority Health (CMH) at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health has joined forces with researchers, community organizers, philanthropists and federal and state agencies to launch the Academy for Health Equity. The international organization will hold its inaugural conference June 26-27 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. The goal of the conference, “Building Capacity to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities,” is to identify and better address health disparities through affordable, quality, timely and culturally competent medical care. Conference attendees also will address the social, economic and environmental factors that contribute to excess illness and death among minority populations. “We believe that no one discipline has the ‘magic bullet’ to solve this problem and that only by working together and engaging the community as trusted partners will we be able to accelerate efforts to close the health disparity gap,” said Stephen B. Thomas, Ph.D., CMH director and the Philip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Social Justice at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Dr. Thomas also is the founding executive committee co-chair of the Academy for Health Equity. “We are proud to play a role in the establishment of the Academy for Health Equity as an international organization because it represents the maturation of a new field of research, teaching and public health practice dedicated to eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities by focusing on health equity,” said Donald S. Burke, M.D., dean, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and UPMC-Jonas Salk Professor of Global Health. The opening address will be delivered by Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. Additional speakers include:

Garth N. Graham, M.D.,deputy assistant secretary for minority health, Office of Minority Health, Department of Health and Human Services
Joyce A. Hunter, Ph.D., deputy director, National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities
Thomas A. LaVeist, Ph.D., co-chair, Academy for Health Equity and director, Hopkins Center for Disparities Solutions, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Stephen B. Thomas, Ph.D., CMH director and the Philip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Social Justice at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health
Irene M. Ibarra, president and CEO, The Colorado Trust

Additionally, former U.S. Congressman Louis Stoke and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan, will be receive the 2008 National Minority Health Leadership Award for their lifelong work and dedication to health policy and legislation designed to improve the health of all people. For more information on the Academy for Health Equity, please visit:

click below for press release:

Monday, April 14, 2008

Founding Meeting of the Academy for Health Equity

Conference InformationMeeting Dates: June 26-27, 2008 Meeting Location: Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center650 15th StreetDenver, Colorado 80202Phone: 303-436-1234Fax: 303-486-4450Reservations: 888-591-1234 (toll free)
Building Capacity to Eliminate Health Disparities: The Founding Meeting of the Academy for Health EquityThe inaugural founding conference of the Academy for Health Equity is critical to developing the knowledge-base for those engaged in health disparity activities by facilitating trans-disciplinary translation exchanges of the latest research and practical applications by:




Over the past decade, efforts to eliminate health disparities have been met with limited
results. This is largely due to many individual and uncoordinated activities taking place
that are designed to address specific diseases and organ systems rather than the
population as a whole. One essential missing element is an organization that can bring
together the varied and diverse stakeholders to exchange ideas, disseminate information,
conduct research, training and other activities to promote equity in health for all.
Plans for the establishment of an organization began in January 2006 during a convened
meeting of researchers, policy-makers, and other interested parties attending the
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Minority Health (OMH)
National Summit to Eliminate Health Disparities. During the National Summit, a brief
needs assessment survey was administrated to selected participants. Additionally, a
petition was circulated to gather names for endorsement of the new organization. The
results of the survey (n=179) and petition (n=405) demonstrated a compelling need for a
common identity among the various disciplines demonstrated by the respondents.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Building Capacity


It is critical that we build momentum leading up to the inaugural founding conference of the Academy for Health Equity. I have established a blog to open a cyberspace to ongoing dialog and sharing of ideas. Please click below and post something ... anything:

Additionally, I encourage each of you to add the Academy for Health Equity url to your signature files as you see below in mine.

This will help populate the web with the name. From time to time please do a "google" search with the Academy for Health Equity as the term. Soon our link will be the first listing...

Stephen B. Thomas, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Minority Health
Philip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Social Justice
Graduate School of Public Health
University of Pittsburgh

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Academy for Health Equity Introduction

The mission of the Academy for Health Equity is to utilize rigorous scientific research, policy development, and community advocacy to eliminate health disparities and create a social movement designed to ensure equal opportunity for health.