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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Increasing health equity in Indiana

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As Indiana showers bloom into spring, so too does the national spotlight on health equity. Every April, the United States dedicates a month to recognizing the disparities faced by minority communities in health care access and outcomes. This year, initiatives such as iHEART and offices like HERE are working to bridge the gap.

Health equity goes beyond simply having access to healthcare; it ensures all individuals and communities can live their healthiest lives, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or zip code. Unfortunately, data paints a concerning picture. The Black non-Hispanic population in Indiana consistently experiences poorer health outcomes compared to the white non-Hispanic population.

To address health equity, IU Health is taking a comprehensive approach. Their Office of Health Equity Research and Engagement (HERE) fuels research efforts to identify and combat the root causes of health disparities in Indiana. HERE’s findings inform the development of targeted interventions that improve health outcomes for underserved communities.

Executive director of the Office of Health Equity Research and Engagement Misty Lewis, who has been a part of the program since its inception in 2021, spoke about the impact the new initiative is already making.

“Over the last year, we have provided more than 1200 [CVD] screenings in the local community,” Lewis said.

In addition to research, IU Health implements initiatives like Indianapolis Health Equity Access outReach and Treatment (iHEART). iHEART directly addresses a major health concern for minority populations – cardiovascular disease (CVD) and hypertension (high blood pressure).

More on health equity and minority health in Indiana

(Photo/Getty Images)

Building on a commitment to improving community health, IU Health has partnered with barbershops in Indianapolis to offer free blood pressure screenings. The screening program recognizes the trusted role barbershops play in many communities, particularly among African American men. One such place was All in the Wrist Barbershop here in Indianapolis.

By bringing health care directly to familiar communal settings like a barbershop, IU Health aims to overcome barriers to preventative care and empower residents to take charge of their well-being. Kristina Hargrove, a community health worker (CHW) who is a part of the iHEART initiative, spoke about the importance of relativity when it comes to health care concerns in marginalized communities.

“Blood pressure is the No. 1 silent killer. It is on a high rise, especially in the Black community,” Hargrove said. “We go beyond the barbershop, we do health minority fairs, IBE [Indiana Black Expo], we do food pantries, we do so much that honestly it gets hard to name everything.”

Hargrove said that they offer much more than providing residents and patients with their vitals at a barbershop. CHWs may assist residents with transportation to pick up a prescription, understand medication or even help them get to their next appointment with their primary care physician.

Lewis also pointed out how important trauma-informed care among CHWs like Hargrove is to tear down those barriers in health care.

(Photo/Getty Images)

“One thing we really focus on is diversifying team members and how our team members have trauma-informed care training so that they can better understand our patients and especially our marginalized patients so that when they visit our hospitals, they are not being re-traumatized,” Lewis said.

Director of community outreach and engagement, Tyrone Humphrey, talks about how everlasting change begins with visibility and ‘boots on the ground’ work. Through a network of community health workers, iHEART brings healthcare directly to underserved neighborhoods.

“The work is getting in front of residents and patients. We meet our patients and residents where they are at. It is a hands-on approach. We want to get the individuals in front of their primary care physicians (PCP) so they can get the appropriate care that they often desire and deserve,” Humphrey said.

Contact multimedia & sports reporter Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral. For more news courtesy of the Indianapolis Recorder, visit our website.

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