By Judy Benson
Publication: The Day
Five years after its formation, the African American Health Council of Southeastern Connecticut is at a crossroads.
"We need to do some brainstorming," said Stephanye Clarke, health program coordinator at Ledge Light Health District. "We're going to start a strategic planning process next month."
The health council is a program of Ledge Light, which provides public health services to New London, Groton, Ledyard, East Lyme and Waterford. It is supported with funds from the state Department of Public Health and the Connecticut Health Foundation.
Last month, the council marked its fifth anniversary with a Minority Health Summit at the Mystic Marriott in Groton. About 65 people attended the event, which coincidentally fell on the day designated as the "Health Equity Day of Action" by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as part of its National Minority Health Month events during April.
Elizabeth Krause, one of the event speakers, said she sought to emphasize the role she believes professionals in various fields - whether they're a nurse in a school or hospital, a primary care doctor or a teacher - have to be an advocate for equity in how patients from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds are served. Krause is the senior program officer at the Connecticut Health Foundation.
There is a need for greater awareness, she said, about "how people of color experience the health care delivery system, and the unconscious bias in how they are treated." This can affect the types of treatment that people are offered, she said, and result in poorer health outcomes for minorities versus non-minorities with the same condition.
The council formed initially to advise Ledge Light on its Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention for Black Residents program. From there it grew into a broader coalition that includes representatives of local hospitals, social service agencies, emergency response teams, businesses, civic groups, four churches, educators and members of the public. It focuses on reducing health disparities between minorities and whites, such as differences in life expectancy and higher prevalence of chronic diseases such as diabetes.
Projects undertaken thus far include providing blood pressure screenings and educational programs about diabetes prevention, heart attack and stroke warning signs and making better food choices. The programs have been offered in predominantly black churches and neighborhoods. The council also started a walking club at Jennings School in New London.
Clarke said that while the council has much to be proud of in its accomplishments thus far, it is now time to assess the group's future direction.
Alextine Powell of Waterford, one of the community members of the council, said she became involved because of her interest in health care equity issues. She has volunteered with several events sponsored by the council, such as blood pressure screenings and dental hygiene and diabetes education programs.
One of the biggest needs she sees is for better communication with minority populations about where health care services are available and for more sensitivity toward low- income residents when they access health care services.
"We need to stop making people feel like it's charity," she said.
When people sense that attitude, they can become reluctant to obtain the care they need, she said.
While she is pleased with the council's work thus far, she is looking forward to it taking on projects that reach more people.
"Their reach could extend broader, to be more inclusive," she said.