The Center for Minority Health (CMH), part of The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, was established in 1994 through a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. It provides the framework that is necessary to address the health issues of underserved, ethnic and racial minorities, and works to improve the health and wellbeing of those populations by eliminating health disparities as defined in Healthy People 2010. CMH transforms research into creative outreach practices and community interventions that positively impacts the health of their community. Further, the Center for Minority Health works with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences to enhance the cultural competence of academic scholars and students. The CMH strives toward a vision of a fair and equal society that both values and contributes to the health of all people, and it works toward that goal on a local, regional, and national level. Dr. Stephen B. Thomas is the Director of the Center for Minority Health, as well as being the Principal Investigator of EXPORT Health, and the Phillip Hallen Professor of Community Health and Public Justice.
The Healthy Black Family Project (HBFP) concentrates on several East End neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. This area, called the Health Empowerment Zone, has a high percentage of Black residents and of residents living below the federal poverty line. HBFP works with individuals and families, providing a variety of activities and services to help prevent diabetes and hypertension.
HBFP provides health coaches, lay health advocates, and nutritionists at no cost to help families alter their activity and diet to create and maintain a healthy lifestyle. They offer cooking classes, exercise classes, walking clubs, a smoking cessation program, as well as yoga, tai chi, and meditation classes, all designed to promote a healthy lifestyle and prevent disease.
In addition, HBFP provides genetic counseling to ascertain family health history and any risks that might be associated with it, as well as giving a health risk assessment to create a personal health analysis, and they help individuals learn practical ways to handle chronic disease.
Healthy Black Families Project also implements the “Small Steps, Big Rewards” campaign, inspired by the findings of a NIH sponsored study, HHS’ Diabetes Prevention Program (DDP) clinical trial. This study has shown that individuals with pre-diabetes (those whose blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet diabetic), can delay and possibly even prevent type 2 diabetes simply by making moderate changes in diet and exercise that enable them to lose five to seven percent of their body weight. Regular physical activity such as a brisk thirty minute walk five times per week, and modest weight loss could cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than half in pre-diabetic individuals. These lifestyle changes were shown to be especially successful in individuals over age 65. HBFP has every confidence that these methods will prove effective in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods.
The Healthy Black Family Project provides the framework for all of these programs, and tracks the progress of the families and individuals who are involved. Approximately 6000 individuals have enrolled in the program.
"The overall goal of the Healthy Black Family Project,” said Dr. Angela Ford, associate director of the center, “is to close the gap in health status between blacks and whites through coordinated community mobilization that is culturally relevant and grounded in a public health approach."
A serious gap or disparity in health outcomes and access to medical care continues to exist for racial or ethnic groups, despite the efforts of government, community leaders, and healthcare providers. The problem is complex and entrenched, involving policy barriers, as well as cultural, social, and economic issues, and therefore demands fresh, creative solutions.
Take a Health Professional to the People Day is just the sort of innovative solution needed to address this serious disparity problem. Part of the Health Advocates In Reach (HAIR) program, it sends doctors, nurse, pharmacists and health educators into the barber shops and beauty salons of underserved communities to deliver health screenings and health education in a familiar, comfortable environment. Stephen B. Thomas, PhD, the director of CMH explains, "Far too many African Americans have no ‘medical home’ to access health care services, so government programs that promote ‘taking a loved one to the doctor’ are not as effective for this community. Therefore, CMH created Take a Health Professional to the People Day. By focusing our efforts on a single day, we believe we can help generate a greater understanding of the importance of regular health screenings while at the same time reaching people who tend to have the least access to healthcare."
The Center for Minority Health inaugurated “Take a Health Professional to the People Day in 2002, starting with just three barber shops and salons. The program now includes nine beauty salons and barber shops, and over one hundred health professionals, some of whom continue to work with the shops in an on-going effort to provide health and wellness activities there.
In 2007, CMH linked forces with the Mayo Clinic Urban Immersion Program for ‘Take a Health Professional to the People Day’. Eight Mayo staff members traveled to Pittsburgh to gain valuable experience in delivering health care in a non-traditional setting. Dr. Sherine Gabriel, director of Education Resources for the Mayo Clinic Center for Translational Science Activities (CTSA), states, “We created the Urban Immersion Program in collaboration with Dr. Stephen Thomas and the CMH to help our students, faculty, researchers and physicians learn and apply these innovative community outreach strategies here at Mayo Clinic.”
Health Disparity Working Groups are charged with planning and organizing health promotion activities that will be implemented during National Minority Health Month (NMHM), which occurs every April. Each group in this diverse collection, brought together from the academic community, health providers, health promotion and human service organizations, and community representatives, organizes health promotion events that focus on the seven health disparity priorities of CMH.
These NMHM community-based events and activities are deeply rooted in the history of the Black community. They are modeled on the Health Improvement Week, which under the leadership of Booker T. Washington evolved into the National Negro Health Movement, and was annually observed for 35 years. Local NMHM activities are planned to be of value and interest for the entire family – including health, mental health, and wellness screenings, as well as physical activity and entertainment that features the world famous Double Dutch Divas.
In addition to their responsibilities of planning for NMHM, the Working Groups are also valuable as an ideal forum where materials and ideas related to research studies and the EXPORT Health communication campaign can be field tested. Representing, as they do, a wide-base of constituents and organizations, they also provide a large network for disseminating valuable information to the community.
The Healthy Class of 2010 is a multi-year campaign designed to prevent disease and to promote health among students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Initiated in the 2003-2004 academic year, targeting those students who entered sixth grade that year, the program has a two-fold goal: 1) to enable staff to systematically engage every student who entered sixth grade in 2003 in “active living”; and 2) to increase students’ knowledge, attitudes and healthy choices regarding physical activity, nutrition, and a tobacco-free lifestyle. The program, which partners with the Pittsburgh Public School System and the Allegheny County Health Department, follows the student’s progress toward achieving these goals, tracking them over a seven-year period through the year 2010, when they graduate. The Center for Minority Health is working toward making the Class of 2010 the healthiest students ever to graduate from the Pittsburgh Public School System, to coincide with the deadline set for Healthy People 2010, the nation’s health promotion program.
This unique collaboration between the Center for Minority Health (CMH), Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Public Schools, focuses on partnership building between school administrators, teachers, students and their families, and the public health community. This creates a unique opportunity to address community needs of eliminating health disparities by customizing relevant interventions to address student health issues.
Efforts to eliminate health disparities have often met with limited results over the past decade. This is primarily due to the fact that too often many activities that are designed to address specific aspects of health disparities have been uncoordinated and happen piecemeal. The Center for Minority Health recognized the need for an organization that can coordinate these individual efforts. In January 2006, together with other concerned researchers, community advocates and health educators, they met during the second Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health National Summit to Eliminate Health Disparities to discuss forming such an organization.
The Colorado Trust, a non-profit foundation with interests in minority health, supported a second meeting on this topic in June 2007. Here, the CMH and other stakeholders further discussed initial strategies to advance the development and formation of the Academy for Health Equity – the organization that can bring together all the diverse stakeholders to exchange ideas, disseminate information, and engage in research and training in a coordinated effort to promote health equity for all populations.
Presently, the HHS Office of Minority Health is providing the technical assistance necessary for the Academy as it develops the infrastructure and means necessary to effectively address health disparities through concepts of health equity. The Academy for Health Equity held its inaugural meeting in Denver, Colorado on June 26-June 27, 2008.
The Center for Minority Health, in collaboration with the University Library System at the University of Pittsburgh, created an online archive of print and electronic media that is pertinent to the health of minorities in the four, nationally recognized minority groups - Blacks/African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders. The Minority Health Archive is a free service, providing research opportunities and an online reservoir for collecting any important information relevant to the health of minorities.
The goal of the Minority Health Archive is to become the primary repository for all material within the field of minority health – including journal articles, government reports, books, conference proceedings, web-based materials, theses/dissertations, or any other material that can make a significant contribution to the advancement of knowledge in this field of study. To this end, any user of the archive can submit material once they have gone through a mandatory registration process (though only material relevant to minority health with be accepted and posted to the live archive by the editorial staff).
The Underground Railroad Bicycle Route is a national project in which the Center for Minority Health collaborated with the Adventure Cycling Association. This 2,100 mile bicycle route, from Mobile, Alabama to Owen Sound, Ontario, follows one of the historic Underground Railroad trails that escaped slaves would take to freedom. The goals of this project are three-fold; to encourage greater diversity in recreational bicycling, to improve the health of Black Americans through biking, and to encourage interest in African American cultural history.
EXPORT Health, or The Center for Excellence EXPORT Health was established within the Center for Minority Health in 2002, thanks to a six million dollar grant (grant no. 5P60 MD-000-207-02)from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD)through Project EXPORT (Excellence in Partnership through Community Outreach and Research on Disparities in Health and Training). EXPORT Health enables academic scholars to collaborate with public, private and community organizations to focus on minority health disparity and work toward eliminating these disparities. Working through the Center for Minority Health, EXPORT Health helps the University of Pittsburgh strengthen the research and training infrastructure for the study of minority health disparities, and the goal of eliminating those disparities.
The Center for Minority Health is establishing the Research Center of Excellence in Minority Health Disparities, using a five-year, $4.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers there will be tasked to study evidence-based strategies for educating African Americans about disease prevention, giving them the tools to improve lifestyle habits. The new research center will work in co-operation with CMH’s Healthy Black Family Project, which has already enrolled 6,000 individuals. One resulting study will focus on one hundred African-American families’ nutrition and fitness habits, assessing them, and identifying targeted interventions.
The new center will also partner with researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s psychiatry department to explore the link between chronic disease and depression, and to evaluate problem-solving therapy as a means for preventing depression. To facilitate early intervention and prevention, the psychiatry faculty will also train Healthy Black Family Project staff to qualify them to proactively identify those program participants who may be at risk for depression.