Moving Toward Health Equity in Milwaukee

As part of the Marquette community‘s deep dive on the drive to achieve health equity, here’s a guide to several leading efforts.

Taking a cue from this year’s Marquette Forum with its lectures, discussions and other events on the theme of “Fractured: Health and Equity,” recent Marquette publications have featured faculty members who are tackling health disparities and social determinants of health through their community-engaged research and outreach. The image on the left links to a story from the winter 2018 issue of Marquette Magazine about Proyecto Mamá, a project Dr. Lisa Edwards, professor of counseling and counselor education, established to support Latina mothers in Milwaukee. The image on the right links to an article from the same issue on new research by Dr. Angelique Harris, associate professor of social and cultural studies, that gives voice to the needs and experiences of African American men in Milwaukee. And scroll down for more on faculty-led health equity projects and partnerships from the 2018 issue of Discover, Marquette’s research, scholarship and innovation magazine.

Click on the left image to learn about Proyecto Mamá, which supports Latina mothers in Milwaukee. And click on the right image for a story on Dr. Angelique Harris’s research with African American men.

Taking youth wellness all the way to nationals

When the Youth Empowered to Succeed program began offering mentoring and athletic training in swimming, biking and running five years ago, only a few of the middle-school-age participants were physically active, and none could swim or bike. Last summer, the same students competed in USA Triathlon’s Youth National Championship in Cleveland, Ohio. A partnership with Milwaukee’s United Community Center and its Bruce-Guadalupe School funded by a $1.05 million federal grant, the program comprehensively targets rising rates of obesity, youth diabetes and associated chronic diseases, as well as overall academic achievement. Marquette President Michael R. Lovell recognized Dr. Paula Papanek, H Sci ’99, director of the Exercise Science Program in the Department of Physical Therapy, with a 2018 Difference Makers Award for her work as principal investigator of the program.

Dr. Papanek

Empowering patients with health literacy

In 20 years as a health care provider, educator and volunteer in local hospitals and community clinics, Josh Knox, Grad ’11, associate clinical professor of physician assistant studies, saw the unfortunate consequences of “patients not understanding how to access the health system, being confused about utilizing medications for acute and chronic disease management, and being unable to institute preventive self-care.” So a spirit of “If not me, then who?” drives his work with colleague Dr. Abiola Keller, assistant professor of nursing and a fellow physician assistant, to increase health literacy in Milwaukee’s underserved communities. With Amy Vuyk, Grad ’95, the pair are bringing an evidence-based health literacy curriculum, the HEAL Program, to two urban medical clinics, Bread of Healing and Repairers of the Breach. Originally developed by Literacy for Life, an innovative adult literacy organization in Williamsburg, Virginia, HEAL trains providers and volunteers to lead patients in discussing topics such as managing medicines, caring for upper respiratory infections and identifying the difference between the common cold and the flu.

With support from the nccPA Health Foundation and the Mal and Jill Hepburn Foundation, this curriculum is now being adapted for Milwaukee clinics serving local low-income and homeless adults. “Health inequities rob people of educational, economic and social opportunities,” says Keller, H Sci ’01. “Literacy skills are one of the strongest predictors of health status. Addressing low health literacy provides a unique opportunity to eliminate a key barrier to high quality and equitable health care.”

Drs. Knox & Keller

Promoting equity in dental health

Disparities in dental health can result from issues as basic as lacking transportation to a dental office, prioritizing other health care needs over dental care, lacking insurance or having difficulty navigating government assistance programs, says Dr. Christopher Okunseri, Grad ’10, professor of dentistry. So following his recent study of access to dental sealant treatments among low-income and minority children, he is working on two projects: studying access to dental care in Wisconsin through a $84,815 grant from Delta Dental Insurance, and examining immigrant children’s oral health and disparities with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

“You have to be healthy to be successful, to be able to make a meaningful impact on society,” says Okunseri in discussing the long-term aims of his research.

Dr. Okunseri

Addressing equity on the neighborhood level

Aware that healthier neighborhoods create healthier residents, Dr. Angelique Harris (see above) has worked on multiple initiatives that spur greater health in local communities including an intervention program that helped community members make healthier lifestyle choices and another focusing on challenges and contributing factors associated with obesity among African-American women. Continuing her work with a $5,000 grant from Marquette’s Civic Dialogue Project, Harris promotes dialogue and advocacy around social justice topics, including those that are health related.

Dr. Harris

New attention on Latino and Latina health

A little over two years ago, Dr. Lisa Edwards, professor of counselor education and counseling psychology, and Dr. Lucas Torres, associate professor of psychology, launched Marquette’s Latina/o Well-Being Research Initiative with the goal of bringing together partners to address disparities in mental health and physical health care, as well as immigration issues, the neighborhood and the role of family. The research duo’s next step is to supply a missing piece of the mental health puzzle by conducting the first-ever, in-depth survey of Latinas and Latinos in Milwaukee about their mental health needs and mental health care experiences. Since Latina/os were previously underrepresented in broader community surveys, this focused effort could lead to groundbreaking findings and new ideas to improve health and equity issues as they affect Latina/os.

Drs. Torres & Edwards

Sara Rae Lancaster for Discover magazine

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