UMKC launches Heartland Health Network to address health disparities in African American community

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) has received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create the Heartland Health Network (HHN) — a coalition of community partners working together to address health disparities by promoting wellness and facilitating health research in the African American community. The grant was awarded through the NIH National Center on Minority Health Disparities Community Based Participatory Research Initiative. Of more than 600 grant proposals submitted from across the nation, UMKC was one of only approximately 30 proposals that were accepted.

Along with researchers from the UMKC Department of Psychology , the founding HHN partners are the Calvary Community Outreach Network (CCON) and the Kansas City Free Health Clinic (KC Free). The network partnership will focus on the implementation of effective strategies to facilitate health research and the dissemination of effective health interventions within the African American community.

UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton was joined by university, community and civic leaders to introduce the Heartland Health Network at the Calvary Community KC Fun & Fitness Day on Saturday, October 30, 2010. Among the invited guests who attended were U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill and U.S. Representative Emmanuel Cleaver.

The establishment of the Heartland Health Network is the culmination of more than a decade of research conducted by UMKC Department of Psychology investigators Kathy Goggin, Ph.D., Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., and Delwyn Catley, Ph.D. Their research has focused on improving health and addressing health disparities among African Americans. Much of Berkley-Patton’s research over the past decade, for example, has involved African American church communities and helped to lay the foundation for the HHN partnership. In a recent study — Taking it to the Pews (TIPS) — Berkley-Patton and her colleagues found that a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach is a potentially effective strategy for exploring the development, implementation and evaluation of HIV interventions in African American churches. Both CCON and KC Free were partners in the TIPS study.

“HHN is really an outgrowth of ongoing research in our department and partnerships and programs that are already in place and working,” Berkley-Patton said. “What makes the formalization of HHN unique is that our community partners will be involved in every stage of the research process — from developing research goals to assisting with implementing research projects and interpreting data. HHN will allow researchers, health care providers and community leaders to work together to find the most effective communication and intervention strategies and translate those strategies into improved health outcomes for patients.”

The Heartland Health Network will employ the strategies learned from TIPS and other studies to address a range of health disparities in the African American community, including shorter life expectancy and higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, asthma, influenza, pneumonia, infant mortality and low birth weights.

Although effective biomedical, behavioral, and social prevention and treatment interventions for many of these health concerns have been developed, the health benefits of these interventions have yet to reach many in the African American community that need them most. There is a pressing need for research to address health disparities among African Americans including the development and dissemination of properly adapted health interventions.

With the opportunity to reach over 50 percent of the African American population who attend weekly church services, the potential impact of this project is significant. African American faith leaders are interested in addressing the health needs of their communities, but need increased capacity to provide evidence-based health interventions.

“I’m tired of doing funerals that could have been prevented,” said Rev. Eric D. Williams, founder and CEO of the Calvary Community Outreach Network. “We have to broaden our understanding of what a ministry is and what it can do. We need to look at all of the needs that our congregants have and use evidenced-based approaches to address them. Working together through the HHN, we have a chance to really make a difference in addressing the health of our community.”

Similarly, health researchers want to reach African Americans in the faith-based community, but need enhanced skills to develop sustainable collaborations. Health researchers also need partnerships with organizations that provide health services to the community to support and sustain novel health interventions. This model project will expand the skills and experience of all partners to develop strategic community partnerships that address important health disparities. Ultimately, the goal is to engage more partners to expand the network’s impact in the Kansas City community.

“Partnerships like Heartland Health Network will help KC Free Health Clinic, and all health care providers, develop strategies to decrease health disparities and improve outcomes for our patients,” said Sally Neville, RN, MSN, Director of HIV Primary Care Services, Kansas City Free Health Clinic.

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