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Nurses Work to Improve Health of Newark’s Black Community

Blacks in Essex County, N.J., are almost 1.5 times more likely to die of a stroke or diabetes than Caucasians, reports the Center for Health Statistics of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Studies also show there was a 50% increase in the hypertension disparity between blacks and Caucasians older than age 65 in New Jersey from 2001 to 2003 and 2003 to 2005. Nationwide, blacks have a higher rate of peripheral artery disease than any other ethnic group and they have the highest rate of first-time occurrence of deep vein thrombosis.

“The numbers are depressing,” says Gwen Watford-Miller, RN, BSN, former president of the Concerned Black Nurses of Newark. The members of this volunteer organization have been working for more than 30 years in New Jersey’s Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Union counties to improve these statistics and resolve the unmet health needs of the black community.

In cooperation with the National Black Nurses Association, they focus on health initiatives in the community, participate in health fairs, and reach out to churches and schools to educate communities about healthcare issues and improve people’s quality of life.

“We are on everybody’s doorstep. We are there in the supermarkets and beauty salons to talk to people,” she says. “I’ve been working in the Newark area for over 15 years so I know there is a great need for help. There’s a lack of health literacy. Patients don’t understand their diseases. They don’t know the right questions to ask when they are with a physician. The numbers are really astounding in many areas. If any organization offers to come into our city and improve these numbers, we definitely welcome that.”

Sanofi-aventis U.S., a pharmaceutical company, lent a helping hand by launching the Community Health Partnership, It’s In Our Hands initiative in September 2008. The program’s goal is to decrease healthcare disparities, erase cultural barriers, improve access to preventive care, and encourage individuals to take action toward better health. The partnership operates in six major cities across the U.S. In Newark, Memphis, and Baltimore it concentrates on the black community, while in New York, San Antonio, and Miami, it aims to link the Hispanic community with local healthcare professionals and health resources and provide people with culturally relevant health information. The program gives actionable steps to combat a variety of medical conditions and diseases, such as diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, insomnia, and deep vein thrombosis.

Gwen Watford-Miller, RN

The goal was to use the most effective components of existing programs to strengthen links within the community instead of creating an additional program. The solid foundation they build on is meaningful, long-term connections among patients, healthcare providers, and resources.

One of the key elements in building this foundation is community health liaisons. They help the flow of information between healthcare providers and the community. Newark-area liaison Lisa Colbert-Brown, says information is critical to access.

“Although a range of health resources are often available to patients in major cities and urban environments, there often is not enough awareness or dialogue about available programs, treatments, or access to proper care,” Colbert-Brown says. “Consequently, these resources often go underutilized and the patients that need them most remain underserved.”

The Community Health Action Team played a major role in developing and operating the program. Three years ago, Keith Greene, president and CEO of United Way of Essex & West Hudson Counties; Maria Vizcarrondo, director of Newark’s Department of Child and Family Wellbeing; and Watford-Miller developed the details of the program with sanofis-aventis. This team now has more members from local stakeholders and meets monthly to exchange information and find ways to deliver it to the community.

“The number of this group is growing constantly. At least 10 to 12 of them come to our monthly meetings,” Colbert-Brown says. “We have representatives from the YMCA, several area hospitals, and healthcare organizations. We talk about current healthcare-related issues, create a schedule of events that are going on in the city, share knowledge of new and available resources, and regularly update the Health Resource Guide.”

The guide is a tool created by the program. It is a pocket-size, accordion-style booklet distributed to patients through local physicians and community-based programs associated with the partnership. It contains detailed information about health programs.

“This guide not only helps the members of the community, but it also makes the physician’s work easier,” Colbert-Brown says. “Their time is valuable so we are helping physicians help their patients more efficiently. They really seem to appreciate that.”

The guide contains information on a great variety of topics such as low-cost health insurance, food pantries, transportation assistance, mental health, prescription assistance, and family planning.

“I distribute many of the resource guides monthly to residents at my office,” says Watford-Miller, who is still part of the Newark action team. “I usually open it up and walk the patient through it and find the relevant information they need.”

Another way the program reaches out is with patient ambassadors. These are patients who share their experiences and knowledge on health issues, discuss obstacles they came across, and provide guidance on how to navigate the healthcare system.

“This peer-to-peer interaction is very well received. Our two ambassador units, one person and one couple, do a great job educating and motivating their peers,” Colbert-Brown says.

While the program reaches more residents, there is still much to accomplish.

“There is still a great number of adults we need to reach, but we have made an impact. The numbers are improving slowly but surely,” Watford-Miller says. “I am sure many great things will grow out of this program. The upcoming federal healthcare reform’s goal is to make healthcare more accessible. This can be one step toward that goal.”

By | 2020-04-15T14:48:34-04:00 July 13th, 2009|Categories: New York/New Jersey Metro, Regional|0 Comments

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