By Sommer Brokaw, Special to the NNPA from The Charlotte Post –
Outreach to eliminate health disparities including the more severe progression of diseases such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS can wind up saving taxpayers money, but community organizers say that their funding to do this is being threatened.
Recently in Raleigh, leaders from community-based health organizations, faith-based health advocacy groups, and legislators gave remarks on the importance of these groups maintaining this funding.
A budget provision was recently proposed for funding for the Community-Focused Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative to provide grants-in-aid to the local health department. The funding is used to close the gap in the health status of African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians compared to Whites.
Specifically, the grants are supposed to focus on the use of preventative measures to eliminate or reduce disparities in infant mortality, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes, and other conditions that disproportionately affect minorities.
Sharon Elliott Bynum, co-founder and executive director, CAARE, Inc. said that before they went into the press conference, a representative told them that State Rep. Beverly Earle was able to offer an amendment to the proposal. This amendment says that the CFEHDI grants could also go to community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and American Indian tribes in addition to the local health departments. The N.C. Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities coordinates the grants program.
Elliott-Bynum said that that this funding is especially important because the OMHHD is one of the only state agencies that have made a concerted effort to disseminate money into community organizations, faith-based organizations, and American Indian tribes.
The budget provision with the amendment is before the N.C. House, but still has to get through the State Senate. A State House proposal also calls for an 11 percent cut to N.C. OMH administration and five positions. Director Barbara Pullen-Smith declined comment until the budget is finalized.
Elliott-Bynum said that a premise for the press conference was a letter that she received from Ashley Rozier, a community planner and organizer in Fayetteville.
“It’s imperative that the $3 million previously allocated to the CFEHDI to provide grants-in-aid is targeted to community-based organizations [CBOs] not the local health departments,” Rozier wrote in an email to Elliott-Bynum. “The original purpose of these resources was generated because there existed a major portion of the minority community that was not receiving timely and culturally appropriate services from their local health department.”
He continued: “Available services to males throughout this state are all but absent within the local health department system. Most CBOs as compared to the local health departments have minimal administrative overhead resulting in a greater amount of the resources actually being directed to patient and community services.”
Rozier, CEO of the Cape Fear Regional Bureau for Community Action, said CBOs are uniquely positioned to address health disparities because of their “non-traditional approach” to reach people on nights and weekends. In contrast, local health departments operate on traditional hours typically around 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
In addition to reaching the poor, who Rozier said may not be able to afford to take off work to get to the doctor during traditional hours, CBOs have advocates who can go out and talk to at-risk individuals and test them for HIV.
“We have people who are former drug dealers or prostitutes, but have changed their life,” he said. “Now they have training and schooling, and now they’re able to go back to the community and speak their language.”
He added: “People complain so much about the health care system being overwhelmed. We need to face it. If you don’t go out and inform the poor and also do early screening and early diagnosis we’re going to take care of it one way or another. Prevention and early screening is the best.”
Elliott-Bynum also said CBOs must be included because they are in a unique position to address health disparities. “Because no health department in the state will be able to reach the amount of people and get inroads we’ve been able to do with our connections and because of our positions in communities and relationships in the county,” she said “We’re just really troubled that this is the climate of things.”
Her non-profit organization, CAARE, offers a holistic program of case management, substance abuse treatment, Veterans Administration traditional housing, and the Jeanne Hopkins Lucas Education and Wellness Center.
Elliott-Bynum said that the grant helps CAARE provide free mammograms to screen for breast cancer and pap smears to screen for ovarian cancer.
The CFEHDI grants-in-aid are awarded in the memory of recently deceased members of the General Assembly, including former Rep. Pete Cunningham of Charlotte, who died last year. Elliott-Bynum said that the proposed cut in grants-in-aid to CBOs – including a center named after Lucas, who died from breast cancer – has been “a slap in the face.”
Rozier added: “The importance of this is not a race issue this is a human issue. It affects everyone.”