UNCA partners up for health promotion

By Emily Ostertag – [email protected] – Staff Writer | Feb. 25, 2015 |
In response to nationwide health disparities in African-American communities, UNC Asheville partnered with a local non-profit organization to create an intervention-based preventative health program.
“I hope we can do better by our health, because I, for one, have high blood pressure, and all that stuff I heard about strokes, I didn’t know,” said Beverly Workman, lay council president of Varick Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. “I think this information — to see somebody, and then to read it, you’ve got a light. You really see what’s going on and what to be looking for.”
Preventative Health Education Resulting in Action and Inspiring Success for Everyone, backed by collective research and data through UNCA and community connections through Asheville Buncombe Institute for Parity Achievement, will support the engagement of more than 25 area churches in health promotion activities, said Ameena Batada, assistant professor in UNCA’s health and wellness department.
According to a 2011 fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American men and women have much higher rates of coronary heart disease and strokes between the ages of 45 and 74. About 38 percent of African-American women and about 62 percent of African-American men die as a result of CHD before the age of 75.
In addition to CHD, other chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and cardio obstructive pulmonary disease plague African-American populations throughout the country, Batada said, as well as higher rates of infant mortality and low infant birth-weight.
“Both here, locally, as well as across the nation, African-Americans are less likely to have access to health insurance and to high quality health care than other populations,” Batada said.
Designed by several members of ABIPA, including the executive director, Je‘Wana Grier-McEachin, and funded by a $25,000 grant from Mission Hospital, PRAISE was proposed in November 2014 and began action in January, Batada said.
“We have research that shows that churches are a very good source of health promotion activity,” Batada said. “The idea with the program is that we support churches to develop and implement their own programming. So we actually, other than screening services, ABIPA provides technical assistance with the idea that the churches will themselves then take the initiative and then continue to do this so it’s sustainable.”
Kathey Avery, registered nurse, educator and case manager at ABIPA, asked the congregation at Varick Chapel, ‘What is it as a culture and people that we need to be doing?’ while giving a heart presentation. The response of the audience, ‘Teach,’ Avery said, drives her life’s mission.
PRAISE will not tell church leaders what services to implement or what health areas to target, but will allow them to identify the specific disparities effecting their congregations from the needs and demographics of the members, Avery said.
“We know demographically that the people who tend to attend church tend to be a little bit older, or family, and so that incidentally will become the intended population,” Batada said.
Education and prevention are one in the same, Avery said. Changing the habits of one group, or even one family, can influence a whole community. She said churches provide this type of group atmosphere.
“That’s where a lot of our people come together, you know, so we do have other initiatives out in the community, but we know that if you have 52 churches with congregations that are just community people, and so if you can get those churches healthy — they’re just going back and making the community healthy,” Avery said.
After Avery’s heart health presentation, the Rev. Damita Jo Wilder summed up the theme of Sunday’s service as ‘a connection that works.’ Avery said this connection exists between individuals, their health and their involvement in teaching youth.
With nutrition, exercise, prevention and management education at the forefront of PRAISE, Avery said, screenings will also be provided at specific events.
“It is really important that we take part in things that are going on, and we’re finding we’re in a room with a group of people trying to fight for our well-being, and we finally get a little back. Take part in and utilize it so we can say, ‘They showed that they will come and they’ve showed improvement,’” Avery said.
Many individuals of lower income who have chronic illnesses do not get diagnosed in time, therefore, unknowingly, their health continues to decline, Batada and Avery said. These free screening events provide an important opportunity for these individuals who would otherwise not seek medical attention for such reasons as being uninsured.
Like other members of the Varick Chapel congregation, Workman said she has concerns about her health, but through the work of PRAISE and her church’s pastor, she feels better informed.
“We are all about community, and our pastor loves to go out and do things, and get people to come talk and keep us informed of what’s going on in the community,” Workman said. “This one on one really helps.”