New OHSU Center Gives Voice to People Often Left Out of Health Care Decision Making

12/01/03    Portland, Ore.

The Oregon Health & Science University Center for Northwest Health Disparities Research will reflect the needs of the Northwest's racial, ethnic minority and underserved communities.

The Northwest Center for Health Disparities Research at OHSU School of Nursing was created to wipe out the huge differences in overall health between the rich and the poor, between whites and racial and ethnic minorities, and also between urban and rural people.

"There's a great need to focus clinical and community-based research resources on eliminating health disparities in the Pacific Northwest. The reduction and eventual elimination of health disparities will only be achieved in full partnership with racial and ethnic minority populations and other underserved communities," said Nancy Glass Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., assistant professor, OHSU School of Nursing. Glass is the co-director of the new center with Corliss McKeever, M.S.W., president and chief executive officer of the African American Health Coalition Inc., and adjunct faculty member, OHSU School of Nursing.

To this end, the center has developed innovative collaborations with community-based agencies, foundations, academic institutions, local and state public health agencies, and health care systems with the mission of developing culturally competent community-academic research collaborations to eliminate health disparities.

"The center will give a voice to people who have previously been excluded from planning, implementing and evaluating research," Glass said.

Numerous studies have shown that there are key health disparities by race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability in this country. Affluent people enjoy better health than do minority and poorer people. The most striking health disparities involve shorter life expectancy among racial minorities and the poor as well as higher rates of cancer, birth defects, infant mortality, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS and violence, according to Glass.

"The key to eliminating health disparities is not in attempting to promote health and prevent disease at the individual level, but rather in involving these individuals and communities to identify and address the causes of ill health," she said.

Some of the outcomes planned for the first year include establishing monthly community and academic health disparities research seminars; establishing statewide research initiatives with racial and ethnic minority and underserved community members and agencies that serve them; and submission of at least two community/academic health disparities research grant applications.

A 10-member steering committee made up of community and academic leaders who will work together to identify, understand and eliminate health disparities will advise the center's administrators. The committee represents collaboration with the African American Health Coalition Inc., Susannah Maria Gurule Foundation, Providence Milwaukie Hospital, Multnomah County Health Department, Oregon Department of Health and Human Services, and Portland State University's School of Community Health. There will also be collaborations within OHSU departments and schools, including the OHSU Center for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs.

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