Responding to complex health inequities in communities requires collaborative partnerships, according to a study from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Partnership was absolutely the key to the success of this program,” said Maura Kepper, an assistant professor at the Brown School, and first author of the study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.
Kepper and her co-authors, including Amy Eyler, a professor at the Brown School, completed a comprehensive evaluation of The Alliance program, a group of local health and social services organizations that have to come together to increase participation in and access to evidence-based lifestyle-change programs, particularly among Black people.
While having programs aimed at improving health is important, improving access to those programs makes them far more impactful, the analysis found.
“We found that bringing together clinical, community, public health and academic agencies in our region allowed us to take a comprehensive approach to chronic disease prevention and racial equity that not only increased access to evidence-based lifestyle change programs, but addressed the basic needs of these individuals to set them up for success,” she said.
“Lifestyle change programs like the National Diabetes Prevention Program have a large body of evidence demonstrating their benefit, yet barriers remain to enrolling and participating in these programs,” Kepper said. “We have to address barriers, such as poor access to nutritious foods, lack of transportation to the programs, lack of reliable internet access or technology and lack of child care for these populations to be successful.”
Alliance members include the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Operation Food Search, Fit and Food Connection, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, the St. Louis Health Department, the Missouri Primary Care Association, St. Louis Integrated Health Network, the Gateway Region YMCA and the Missouri Pharmacy Association.
Community health workers are well positioned to support racial and ethnic groups in accessing and succeeding in evidence-based programs and in health care more broadly, and investing in such workers should be a priority, the analysis found.
“One thing I am proud of is this group’s eye to the future,” Kepper said. “We realize the impact of this work relies on our continued efforts. We have been intentional about building infrastructure, capacity and plans to sustain this partnership and continue supporting health and racial equity in our region.”