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Research News

Stethoscope and test results

Project aims to build healthier community

By PATRICIA DONOVAN

Published March 13, 2014

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“Our job as responsible university representatives is to build on the neighborhood’s strengths by being a resource for those working there to increase access to fresh, healthy food and improve community health.”
Heather Orom, assistant professor
Department of Community Health and Health Behavior

UB faculty member Heather Orom is working with partners in the Delavan-Grider neighborhood to build a healthier community in this section of the East Side of Buffalo.

“Growing Healthy Together” is the community health project developed by Orom, assistant professor in the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, School of Public Health and Health Professions, and Karen O’Quin, a PhD student in that department. They are working in partnership with the Delavan-Grider Community Center and Rita Hubbard-Robinson, director of institutional advancement at Erie County Medical Center (ECMC) and the ECMC Lifeline Foundation.

“The Delavan-Grider community is well-loved by its residents for its vibrancy, cohesion and neighbor-to-neighbor assistance,” Orom says, “but there are some serious health issues and food availability problems here.

“Our job as responsible university representatives is to build on the neighborhood’s strengths by being a resource for those working there to increase access to fresh, healthy food and improve community health.”

Between October 2011 and August 2012, Orom, O’Quin, neighborhood volunteers and a team of students in the UB Master of Public Health program undertook a community health assessment that involved one-on-one interviews with residents from 102 households in a section of the community near ECMC.

The UB team analyzed and presented the resulting data in a colorful, easy-to-read, 31-page educational booklet that team members delivered door-to-door in the neighborhood and continue to use as a starting point for discussions about health at community events.

With a great layout and excellent use of graphs and photos, the booklet clearly demonstrates to readers the higher-than-average levels of chronic illness in the neighborhood — including high blood pressure, asthma, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

It also describes the benefits of physical activity, offers suggestions to overcome self-described barriers to being active, discusses the positive effects of fresh foods on the disease process itself and offers information on a range of community services.

In response to their identified needs, Orom says concerned residents and ECMC are working to provide shuttles to area grocery stores and programs that promote eating well and moving more.

This has allowed Orom and O’Quin to begin a new phase of the project, one aimed at empowering patients in the medical setting. There will be 100 participants in this study; three community groups already are involved.

This study is grounded in research showing that active patients have improved health outcomes because they can communicate better and are better able to understand and control such things as their diabetes or hypertension.

“Our participants are meeting with members of the Patient Voices Network, a group of patients brought together by UB’s Department of Family Medicine to improve primary care in Buffalo,” Orom says.

“These speakers share personal stories about how they became informed and learned to express their preferences, participate in their health care decisions and collaborate with medical providers to set and reach health goals. Then they lead group discussions about how our participants can do this.”

To ascertain if the narrative process helped subjects become more active partners in their own medical care, O’Quin will conduct follow-up interviews with them after their next visits with physicians.

Orom and O’Quin have been working since July 2010 to establish themselves as credible university partners, an effort that is paying off in trust and willing collaboration.

“This is important, because we’re in this for the long haul,” Orom says. “We plan to remain actively involved in Delavan-Grider and hope that, as a result, both residents and the university will grow our capacity to collaboratively build a healthier community.”