$6.7M grant targets health equity.


Byline: Karen Nugent

WORCESTER - Being a white man practicing medicine in Alabama, Dr. Jeroan J. Allison, 50, figured southern racial struggles were mostly a thing of the past.

Until he began treating Arthur Shores, a black lawyer and prominent figure in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Dr. Allison, who made house calls to Mr. Shores' Birmingham, Ala., home to check on his hypertension, eventually became friends with him, and was accepted as part of the family - invited to gatherings where he would get the lowdown on how blacks thought about racism, the south and most importantly, medical care.

"Before, I thought everything was fine, that segregation was over," he said. "As things were disclosed, I realized I was wrong and that they had just assumed a different form - and that health disparity is a real problem."

In an effort to make a change, Dr. Allison embarked on a project in which "storytelling" with prerecorded videos made by actual patients, mainly blacks being treated for high blood pressure, were used to communicate their experiences to other patients.

"Watching and listening to someone who looks like you and acts like you talking about their own blood pressure treatment is much more likely to be effective than a doctor talking to you," he said.

A similar project is coming to the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

A $6.7 million federal grant, to be funded over five years, has been awarded for a partnership between the medical school and the University of Massachusetts at Boston to establish the UMass Center for Health Equity Intervention Research, to improve the health of disadvantaged and minority populations. It is the only such center in New England to receive federal funding, out of about 15 in the country receiving grants.

Dr. Allison, professor and vice chairman of the medical school's department of Quantitative Health Sciences and the lead researcher for the new center, said the goal is to reduce health disparities among non-English speakers, or those who don't understand, or trust, medical terminology used by doctors.

A new building will not be constructed, but several programs will take place at the medical school, other sites in Worcester, UMass Boston, and throughout the state. Specialists in public health, medicine, nursing, psychology, cultural anthropology and sociology will use storytelling and mentoring with patients while their efforts are studied. The programs are expected to begin...

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