Published June 3, 2020
Studies have shown that the City of Buffalo is one of the poorest big cities in America. It possesses the oldest housing stock in the nation. And it is in the 90th percentile of racial isolation. As CTSI Community Advisory Board Member Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer, MCM, put it during a UB Community Health Equity Research Institute event on May 21, these are “disappointing and dubious distinctions.”
The numbers are also indicative of the health disparities impacting Buffalo and its residents — especially people of color residing in underserved neighborhoods. The COVID-19 pandemic has made these issues even more apparent.
Analyzing, understanding, and overcoming health disparities and the social determinants of health was the subject of a recent local colloquium and state legislature public hearing, both of which were held virtually, and brought together leaders from Western New York and across New York State.
Addressing health disparities is a primary goal of the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, an initiative that launched in December 2019. The Institute held its first-ever event, a Virtual Colloquium to Advance Health Equity Research in Buffalo, on May 21. [See a Spectrum News Buffalo feature on the event here, as well as preview items from UBNow and Buffalo Rising. Watch a full recording of the Colloquium here.]
UB Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Director Timothy Murphy, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Director, UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, opened the four-hour event by outlining the goals of the Colloquium and the Institute. These include developing and testing innovative solutions, engaging the community as true partners in research, and connecting the community with researchers to start new collaborations.
The first presenter, Rev. Pointer, Pastor, Agape Fellowship Baptist Church; Co-Convener, African American Health Equity Task Force; Chair, Board of Managers, Millennium Collaborative Care; Chair, Erie County Poverty Committee; and Board Chair, Greater Buffalo United Ministries; explained that the “conditions contribute to negative health outcomes” and “rob the community” of the guidance of older Americans. Social determinants, he says, have exacerbated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a sign of the synergy between the Institute and the CTSI, multiple presenters at the Colloquium were faculty with CTSI affiliations, including:
Days before the Virtual Colloquium, Murphy and Pastor George F. Nicholas, Co-Convener, the African American Health Equity Task Force and Chair, Buffalo Center for Health Equity, testified at the New York State Legislature’s Joint Virtual Public Hearing Exploring Solutions to the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Minority Communities. [Watch the testimony here; comments from Pastor Nicholas can be viewed at the 5 hour 17 minute mark while comments from Murphy can be viewed at the 5 hour 23 minute mark. Or, read summaries from UBNow and the Jacobs School.]
“COVID-19 did not create a health crisis in black Buffalo. COVID-19 merely exposed the health crisis that was already existing,” Pastor Nicholas testified to state decision makers. “We must create a climate in the region where health equity is a stated priority as we measure our growth and progress.”
In Murphy’s testimony, he explained that “solutions to these systemic problems will not occur overnight. It will take creative approaches from people with diverse expertise, a broad range of capabilities, and big ideas. We need different approaches — we can’t keep doing the same things because they don’t work. And we need approaches that will be sustainable. We need generational changes.”
As outlined during both the state hearing and the Virtual Colloquium, there is much work to be done in order to create a safer, healthier Western New York for all of its residents. It will not be quick or easy, but the journey to finding solutions has begun.