What are the biggest healthcare problems facing Central Florida’s underserved communities and how do physicians, researchers and citizens work together to solve them? That was the key question that brought community health advocates to the College of Medicine May 11 to begin community-based participatory research.
Such research involves communities from the start in determining what issue to study, how to conduct the research and how to share research findings to affect social change.
“Traditionally, researchers have gone into underserved communities and decided for themselves what research they conduct. Community members were researched, analyzed and studied. But they had no say in how those studies were conducted or used,” said Dr. Saleh Rahman, interim assistant dean for diversity and inclusion and the leader of the medical school’s effort.
“We want to work with you to create Community Based Participatory Research. That means we work together – community residents, community programs, community groups – to identify what needs to be studied. We work together to conduct that research. And then we work together to share the results with the entire community for the good of all.”
Guided by Assistant Professor Dr. Denise Kay, participants gathered in small groups to identify the community’s biggest health problems and how future trends – such as the growing role of digital communication and ownership of private data – might impact such health concerns.
The groups generally agreed on the top four priorities for improving healthcare in underserved communities:
- Mental health
- Access to care
- Treatment and prevention of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease
The next step, Dr. Rahman said, is for College of Medicine researchers to find data on these trends to narrow possible subjects for research. Participants will then meet to review those findings and begin setting priorities.
Two of the event’s participants were former registered nurses who are leading public health efforts in Central Florida. Donna Walsh is health officer with the Florida Department of Health in Sanford. Fayshonda Cooks is president and CEO of Healthcare Access Alliance, which works to provide increased healthcare access to the underserved.
Walsh has been in public health for 30 years and said she is happy that the strategy is shifting to provide care “where people are,” rather than requiring them to always come to a clinic. Her organization is providing services to the homeless as well as beginning food pantries and learning centers. She emphasized that care strategies must be appropriate and unique to individual communities, that one system doesn’t fit everyone.
Cooks, a 25-year healthcare provider, said advocates must come together and find new solutions to caring for the underserved. She noted that she had just seen a 1978 television episode of “Good Times” called “Where Have All the Doctors Gone?” The episode focused on the lack of healthcare available to low-income residents.
“This was in 1978 and we’re still having the same conversation in 2018,” she said. “Something is terribly wrong.”
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