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Opinion: Tackling health disparities key to thriving community

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Creating access to public and private health care resources is vital for Black Americans who adversely suffer from many of the most common chronic health issues. For example, compared to other nationalities, African Americans are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza, pneumonia, diabetes and HIV/AIDS, according to the Office of Minority Health, part of the U.S. Department for Health and Human Services.

To address these conditions locally, a group of community leaders, health care workers, business owners, students and civic workers created a plan. They formed the SpringMo Black Wellness Initiative and held a kickoff event last month featuring local health care and wellness experts from CoxHealth, Burrell Behavioral Health, AIDS Project of the Ozarks, Springfield-Greene County Health Department, Recovery Outreach Services LLC, Ozarks Technical Community College and Arc of the Ozarks. Each has a shared goal to help improve Black residents’ health outcomes in Springfield.

The initiative’s focus is to bring empowerment through engagement within our community and build relationships and connections between our health care institutions and targeted populations to make Springfield a thriving, healthy place to live for its residents. It’s a multiyear initiative designed to address health disparities, health equality, health equity, mental health, educational paths to health care careers and advocate for and promote better health outcomes.

Today, Black Americans are living longer, but an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that lifestyle choices, genetics and adverse health issues have lowered many Black Americans’ quality of life. COVID-19 exposed some of the most vulnerable Black Americans to shorter life expectancies with lingering health issues exasperated by the coronavirus, according to research published in the National Library of Medicine. In addition, adverse diseases and the presence of long COVID have exposed a new set of lingering health issues that have put a strain on an already vulnerable population and a fragile health care system that many Black people face in everyday life.

The SpringMo Black Wellness Initiative’s objective is to address the social determinants of health that are a significant factor in environments where people live, learn, work and socialize. Social determinants of health affects outcomes such as mortality, morbidity, health care cost, health status and limitations many face daily.

The neighborhoods people live in significantly impact their health. For example, some areas may have higher crime rates, inadequate access to healthy foods and no community opportunities to walk and bike.

Educational access and knowing the available resources will increase educational opportunities and help children do better in school. In addition, according to research from Kaiser Family Foundation, people with higher education levels have better chances of being healthier and living longer.

Economic stability in the United States affects 1 in 10 people living in poverty, and Kaiser Family Foundation research finds many unable to afford healthy foods, health care and housing. People with good paying jobs are less likely to live in poverty and more likely to be healthy, but many have trouble finding and keeping a job.

Many people don’t get or have knowledge of health care services that are available to them. The social stigma of health care disparities is an avoidable difference in disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health experienced by socially disadvantaged populations.

Health and health care disparities identified by race and ethnicity occur on many levels. For example, disparities occur across socioeconomic status, age, geography, language, gender, disability status, citizenship, and sexual identity and orientation. Unfortunately, health care disparities are real and still prevalent in 2022.

The SpringMo Black Wellness Initiative will:

  • Address and help adopt health policies and best practices to improve well-being and quality of life.
  • Build connections to the resources available in our community that affect health equity.
  • Facilitate workshops, screenings and communitywide emphasis to improve the ability to discover, understand and use information and services to make informed health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
  • Empower participants within our community to take action, be proactive and advocate for their health and wellness.
  • Acknowledge obstructions and other aspects that influence the social determinants of health.

Melesha Bailey, the CEO and founder of Love 4 Life Wellness LLC, is on the executive committee of the SpringMo Black Wellness Initiative. She can be reached at melesha@love4lifewellness.com.

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