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School of Nursing and Austin-Area Community Groups to Improve Local Health Disparities

The School of Nursing and community partners will collaborate on projects to address health care inequalities. 

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AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing and community partners Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman (MSVW) and the Alliance for African American Health in Central Texas (AAAHCT) will collaborate on projects designed to address health care inequalities after receiving two six-year grants totaling more than $3 million from the City of Austin. The health equity grants, the first ever awarded by the city, will address health disparities in underserved populations.

The collaboration is an outgrowth of efforts by the School of Nursing’s new Center for Transdisciplinary Collaborative Research in Self-Management Science (TCRSS) and several local organizations to bring attention to a pressing health care crisis among the city’s low-income populations and develop community-driven solutions.

“As Austin has grown and prospered, not all of its residents have benefited,” said Miyong Kim, a professor in the School of Nursing and director of TCRSS. “Although several community organizations have long been involved in this struggle to right the wrong of health disparities, funding has always been a struggle. We are grateful to the City Council for recognizing the barriers that many low-income individuals encounter as they try to obtain the health care they need and for providing the funds to help us help them overcome these barriers.”

The MSVW program uses the Maternal Justice Model, which brings together a culturally specific midwifery model with community organizing to address the root causes of racial health disparities in access, quality of care, and outcomes for mothers and babies in the community, Paula Rojas, a licensed midwife and community organizer with MSVW, explained.

“This collaboration with TCRSS at UT Austin will allow us to take to scale a program that has already shown success on a small scale with volunteer staff,” said Kellee Coleman, co-founder of MSVW. “We will now have the opportunity to prove that directly addressing social determinants of health will impact the health of pregnant women in a positive way.”

African Americans in Travis County continue to have higher rates of mortality from cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and this disparity crosses economic lines. The AAAHCT project will address chronic disease among African Americans by providing a wellness program in which participants identify specific health goals they want to achieve and then receive individual and group coaching and connections to resources to assist them.

“Group support, increased accountability and resources will aid the participant in reaching the identified goal,” said Marva Overton, executive director of AAAHTC. “The success of the program will be measured not only by behavioral and biometric outcomes, but also by the ability to impact barriers that challenge people in being well.”

According to Dr. Kim, who is also associate vice president in the UT Austin Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the School of Nursing will continue to work with various grass-roots community organizations and partners to implement community-driven solutions to underserved communities in Austin to reduce health disparity gaps.