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Woodson explores collaboration in journal piece

Posted 7/21/2009

Joyce Woodson, an Associate Professor and Area Extension Specialist in Nutrition Education at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE), has published a paper in the upcoming issue of the Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved.

The paper is titled “Challenges of Collaboration to Address Health Disparities in the Rapidly Growing Community of Las Vegas, Nevada,” and explores Woodson’s efforts to collaborate with a faith-based community to address health problems among Las Vegas’ growing African-American community.

Woodson established the Community Partners for Better Health and was principal investigator in The Healthy Hearts Project through UNCE. Other University researchers — Millicent Braxton-Calhoun and Jacqueline Black, program officers with the UNCE Health and Nutrition team; Rosalie Marinelli, an associate professor emeritus; Alyssa O’Hair, Associate Director of Prevention at the Center for Application of Substance Abuse Technologies; and Dr. Nora Constantino, an Associate Professor in the School of Public Health — are listed as having contributed to the article.

Although the African American population of Las Vegas is fairly scattered, most predominately African American churches remain in two ZIP codes in West Las Vegas, and the West area is considered the hub of African American culture in the valley, Woodson writes. National data indicated there was a “disproportionately high incidence” of such chronic diseases as hypertension, diabetes and some forms of cancer among Las Vegas’ African Americans.

Despite that, the UNCE Health and Nutrition Team noticed in the mid-1990s that few African Americans were participating in community outreach programs to address those ailments.

In 1996 Woodson reached out to the African American church leaders, who often address the health, human services, political, economic and spiritual needs of their parishioners. A health needs assessment was conducted in seven churches — including Methodist Episcopal, Baptist, and Catholic churches — and within two years the Community Partners for Better Health (CPBH) coalition and UNCE were collaborating with six other health agencies in Las Vegas.

The group helped churches perform monthly blood pressure screenings; distributed health posters to churches, beauty parlors and barber shops; encouraged pastors to preach health advice from the pulpit; helped launch a local radio show; and participated in health fairs.

Over the next several years, the coalition grew in size, and grant money — obtained by UNCE partnering with the coalition — allowed the coalition to hire staff, expand operations and take steps to become a nonprofit corporation.

Despite the coalition’s widespread successes, Woodson notes in her article that the coalition experienced some growing pains. The infusion of grant funds led to some confusion among coalition members over how the money could be spent — a situation that could have been prevented if faculty and coalition members could have worked more closely in writing grant applications.

“We suggest that faculty should be working with a coalition before seeking funding and should be able to identify leaders who could serve in the role of liaison between the community and the university,” Woodson writes in her article.

She also recommends that any coalition frequently review its goals for the benefit of new members.

“Forming a community coalition is very labor intensive and consistent leadership is necessary to maintain focus,” Woodson writes. “Policies and procedures of an institution, such as a university, must be understood by everyone to avoid miscommunication.”

But, in the end, the effort is worth it, Woodson says.

“Regardless of the many challenges faced by university and community partnerships, developing grassroots organizations to address health disparities should be encouraged,” she writes. “This project, though demanding, is recognized by the university and community leaders as a successful response to community needs.”

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