Published May 22, 2018
Collaboration and a sense of community were on display at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences during a daylong event to address Buffalo’s African-American health disparities.
“Igniting Hope: Building a Just Community With a Culture of Health and Equity” brought together more than 200 participants from the UB community and various agencies and organizations, who gathered at the home of the Jacobs School on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in downtown Buffalo.
“I will collaborate on some programs while my colleagues collaborate on others, and sometimes we collaborate together. It’s different to spend a whole day together on the topic in one large group,” said Linda F. Pessar, MD, professor emerita of psychiatry.
Members of the clergy, community activists and neighborhood organizers were also involved in the event.
“The importance of this conference is sort of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Many people have had interests in this topic, in social determinants. We’ve all done our piece. Here we are coming together, meeting one another and sharing our interests,” said Pessar, who is also director of the Jacobs School’s Center for Medical Humanities. “Hopefully out of this can come a rational university- and community-wide decision-making process where we can work together and combine our resources rather than work in a vacuum.”
“One of our goals is to increase research in health disparities. This conference, for the first time, brings together the community and the people who are doing the research. That has been very important,” Dubocovich said.
A collaboration between UB, the African American Health Disparities Task Force, Millennium Collaborative Care, Erie County Medical Center, Population Health Collaborative and Greater Buffalo United Churches led to the conference. It also was sponsored by UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which is committed to involving more diverse patient populations in its research.
“The idea came up and we thought we’d be able to host a conference down here in the area where a lot of the health care disparities occur,” said Alan J. Lesse, MD, senior associate dean for medical curriculum and associate professor of medicine. “Having the Jacobs School downtown makes a huge difference. It is probably the linchpin of Buffalo’s renewal. It draws so many people down here with such diversity. I think we have the opportunity to try and pay back and do things that really help the community.”
“The university’s role in this and the Jacobs School’s role in this is to try to help. A lot of times we go into communities and we think we have some ideas and try our best, but it’s not the way to do things,” Lesse added. “I think the goal of this is to see what the community needs, and how we can facilitate it.”
“It’s really a way to interact with the community. We have to be good neighbors,” Dubocovich said.
Looking out over the rows of participants, conference organizer the Rev. George F. Nicholas said the presence of so many people had already made the conference a success.
“We are building a movement. You and your talents will enable us and empower us to eliminate race-based disparities,” said Nicholas, pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church in Buffalo and a member of the African American Health Disparities Task Force and the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable.
Speakers at the event reported on the magnitude of disparities between African-Americans and whites: that 38 percent of African-Americans live in poverty in Buffalo versus 15 percent for all races in Erie County.
Women’s health was the focus of a talk by Kenyani S. Davis, MD, assistant professor of medicine.
Davis told the audience that the No. 1 killer for all women — regardless of race — is coronary heart disease and that 64 percent of women who die suddenly from this condition have exhibited no previous symptoms. She said black women are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease, and the mortality rate for black women with high blood pressure is a staggering 352 percent higher than it is for Caucasian women.
“And this is a condition that’s easily treated,” said Davis, a physician with UBMD Internal Medicine.
Davis also said that African-American women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women.
Keynote speaker Consuelo H. Wilkins, MD, executive director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance in Tennessee and an expert in improving community health through community-engaged research, started a program in which community organizations propose problems they want Wilkins and her team of researchers and students to solve.
Her team also started a faith-based equity award program that rewards churches with $1,000 for their efforts to promote health equity in their communities.
Stephen B. Thomas, PhD, director of the University of Maryland Center for Health Equity and a leading scholar on eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities, described programs he helped start in Baltimore that bring health care into neighborhood barbershops, where members of the community gather. Students and practicing physicians visit the barbershops and administer blood pressure and blood sugar screenings.
Willie Underwood III, MD, associate professor at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, addressed stereotypes that hurt African-Americans and Latinos in career opportunities.
“You cannot address health disparities without addressing these other disparities,” Nicholas said.
Lesse sees the possibility of more conferences like this in the future.
“I believe very strongly that this will be an annual event. But, as was mentioned, it has to be actions, not words,” Lesse said. “If we have 10 years of just having a conference a year and nothing else, we haven’t really done anything. The importance is getting everything done.”
“I think this is just the start of ‘Igniting Hope.’ As they said today: We have hope, now we have to make sure this continues,” Dubocovich added.
Davis, Dubocovich, Lesse and Pessar were members of the conference committee for the event. Other Jacobs School faculty serving on the committee were David A. Milling, MD, senior associate dean for student and academic affairs and associate professor of medicine; Timothy F. Murphy, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research and SUNY Distinguished Professor of medicine; and Laurene M. Tumiel-Berhalter, PhD, associate professor of family medicine.
Organizations represented at the April 28 conference included the Erie County Department of Health, Buffalo Public Schools, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Community Health Center of Buffalo Inc., Food Bank of WNY, Independent Health, Jericho Road Community Health Center, local branches of the NAACP, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care.