This column appeared in The Tennessean on February 13, 2023.
By: Katina Beard, CEO of Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center, and Mark Yancy, CEO of NashvilleHealth
Black History Month is a time to reflect on the past struggles and achievements of the Civil Rights Movement. It is also a time to use the many lessons learned through this deep history to address our current challenges. We can start by using these lessons to address the dramatic health disparities and lack of health equity that pervade our Nashville community.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defines health equity as “everyone having a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.” Our health is the starting point for a productive life, intricately interwoven with our job effectiveness, economic stability, and overall sense of fulfillment.
But health equity recognizes that an individual’s ability to actually be healthy is often circumspect to barriers and obstacles that might not be of their own making or choosing. And, when it comes to opportunities to be healthy, Nashville’s Black community is at a huge disadvantage.
A NashvilleHealth 2019 Community Health and Wellbeing Survey found that approximately 50% of Black adults in Nashville reported being diagnosed with high blood pressure – or hypertension – in comparison to only 27% of white adults surveyed. This divide is particularly alarming because hypertension is associated with higher rates of stroke and heart attack. And, from our health equity lens, this is one of Nashville’s greatest challenges.
North Nashville – particularly Nashville’s 37208 Zip Code – is not only a historically underserved community, but it also has our city’s highest prevalence of hypertension. Hypertension disparities are further amplified by structural inequities that drive poor health outcomes like lack of access to food and nutrition, transportation, and healthcare services.
This is why NashvilleHealth and Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center (MWCHC) are teaming up to reduce health disparities and advance health equity, alongside a burgeoning alliance of almost 20 nonprofit, academic, and community-based organizational partners each of which is an essential and indispensable part of the Nashville community. And when it comes to storied Black History, MWCHC is an embodiment of consistent work to advance health equity.
MWCHC is named after Dr. Matthew Walker, Sr., who in addition to his responsibilities as Surgery Department Chair at Meharry Medical College from 1943-1973 was also a champion of comprehensive community healthcare. Dr. Walker was a groundbreaker for equity-minded healthcare and established health programs in Tennessee and Mississippi while advocating for nearly a decade at local and state levels before receiving one million dollars to build the health center that now resides in Nashville’s 37208 Zip Code. Honoring their namesake’s legacy, MWCHC continually brings high-quality, affordable care to Middle Tennessee’s underinsured and uninsured citizens. This is health equity at its best, but it doesn’t stop here.
Our Health Equity Coalition is currently designing its first pilot project, focusing on uncontrolled high blood pressure in MWCHC’s Nashville service area. The comprehensive design seeks to bring the core competencies of each partner organization in concert to build wellness and trust – all while relying on actionable, community-specific data that allows us to measurably improve health outcomes affecting vulnerable communities.
As our coalition works to change the narrative of health equity in Nashville, we encourage you to join us with your learnings, with your time, or even by donating to an organization that promotes health and wellbeing (many of which are already teaming up in our coalition). We need everyone involved to truly make an impact. One of the great lessons of the Civil Rights Movement is that we are stronger together. Health equity is no different.
Partner Spotlight: Q & A with Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee
February Newsletter: Let’s Put Health Equity at the Forefront
Partner Spotlight: Q & A with American Heart Association Nashville
Health challenges facing Black Nashvillians requires a push for equity | Opinion
Partner Spotlight: Q & A with The Belmont Data Collaborative
NashvilleHealth creates a culture of health and wellbeing by serving as a convener to open dialogue, align resources and build smart strategic partnerships to create a bold plan for health and wellbeing in Nashville.Check out our latest newsletter
Partner Spotlight: Q & A with Transit Alliance of Middle TennesseeMar 14, 2023
February Newsletter: Let’s Put Health Equity at the ForefrontFeb 16, 2023
Partner Spotlight: Q & A with American Heart Association NashvilleFeb 15, 2023
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