TERRE HAUTE —
Improving the health of local children and adults is a task that the Minority Health Coalition of Vigo County takes seriously.
And documenting the need for health education and services is just as important to the coalition staff as providing health screenings.
“We have been in the community for 19 years,” said executive director Dinah Farrington, “and we want to do a better job of tracking outcomes to how changing lifestyles and changing habits is making us healthier.”
The minority community is the target audience for the programming that includes diabetes education, obesity awareness, asthma, mental health issues and fitness. The programs inform youth, adults and agencies on current health disparities and offers practical ways to reduce those disparities.
“Our target community is definitely minorities, because diseases such as diabetes affects African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans more than the Caucasian population,” she said.
With an office located in the Booker T. Washington Community Center, Farrington and her intern staff of Mia Lewis and Tasia Robinson stay busy reaching out to the community through surveys, health fairs and programs such as Operation Fit Kids, which helps youth at the 14th and Chestnut Community Center. The Healthy Smiles oral health program has been presented to youths at Ryves Hall, Camp Rave and other after-school programs.
At Deming Center, residents went through an eight-week course aimed at pre-diabetics to teach people what they need to prevent the onset of diabetes and how to manage it for people already affected by the disease.
“A lot of it was about helping them learn what questions to ask their doctors,” Farrington said. “This fall, we will present a program from the American Diabetes Association. Also, we have a grant to provide glucose meters to senior citizens without meters or test strips who still need a device.”
During the past year, from July 1, 2012, through last month, the coalition staff participated in about 60 area health fairs. The health screenings are also offered at the coalition office in the lower level of the community center.
The next event will be a booth to offer screenings during the Vigo County Fair. Another upcoming screening for vision, blood pressure and blood sugar will be conducted during the National Night Out event in August at Fairbanks Park.
“There was one day that we were participating in three separate health fairs,” Farrington said of the outreach to the public.
The coalition also supports a senior exercise class that meets at the community center on Tuesday and Thursday mornings for about 90 minutes. The youngest people in the class are probably in their 60s, Farrington said, but the classes are open to anyone of any age.
Another initiative that Lewis — who is working on a master’s degree in public health — took on in recent months were minority surveys about Hepatitis C and kidney disease.
While most people said they were familiar with the diseases, she said, most didn’t know that they are more likely to be affected by the ailments than their Caucasian counterparts.
“Many people felt they were not at risk for kidney disease,” Lewis said, “but when they were asked specific questions, they found out they were at risk. Diabetes and high blood pressure are the big risk factors for kidney disease.”
As far as Hepatitis C, many people were unaware that there are multiple types of the blood disease, which affects the liver.
“The big factor for Hep C is intravenous drug use,” Lewis said. “People didn’t realize there was another type of hepatitis and that it could be sexually transmitted.”
The surveys reached out to the minority community and attracted participants by offering the incentive of retail gift cards for those people who filled out the paperwork.
“We did appointments for people and either went to them where they were or had them come into the office. Whatever was convenient for them,” Farrington said.
Minority residents are invited to volunteer for future surveys by contacting the office and providing their own preferred contact information.
Being advocates in the public health arena is a rewarding experience, both Lewis and Robinson said.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn, to be hands on and to get real life experience in what not-for-profits do,” Lewis said.
Farrington agrees that interns and volunteers are essential in the outreach to the community, and anyone interested in assisting can contact the coalition office at 812-234-8713.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.