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Black churches can help shape public health policy | READER COMMENTARY

Kelli McCallum, nurse practitioner with MedStar Health Mobile Center, vaccinates James Adams, a pastor with Dynamic Believers Apostolic Church in Baltimore last March. File. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun).
Kelli McCallum, nurse practitioner with MedStar Health Mobile Center, vaccinates James Adams, a pastor with Dynamic Believers Apostolic Church in Baltimore last March. File. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun). (Kim Hairston)

An underappreciated reality in health care is that African American communities do not always trust health care systems, but they do trust their faith leaders. And health systems should, too (”Staffs of Maryland hospitals, stressed and sickened with COVID-19, know ‘cavalry’ isn’t coming,” Jan. 8).

Health care hesitancy is borne of history. Many in African American communities have such a distrust of the health care system that they are willing to risk dying of COVID-19 rather than engage in a system they do not believe have their best interests at heart. Faith leaders are trusted shepherds who guide our communities in times of gladness and in times of sadness. If you want to reach these communities, if you want to build trust and change health outcomes, we are your partners.

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Public health’s upstream approach is a natural fit for faith leaders. Both public health and faith communities use a whole community approach but focus on the most vulnerable. No longer are faith leaders brought in to “sign off” on approaches but we have seats at the table to inform, advise and cocreate solutions. It is a defining moment in health care and we need to codify it as not simply a best practice but as the normal practice going forward.

We recognize that there is a systemic change that needs to happen starting with how Congress views and funds health equity work, but we are eager to be part of this change at every stage. Not only can we help shape programming, but we can also ensure adequate community-based funding is realized where it’s needed the most. Rather than wait for big changes, let’s start today with steps that are inherently doable regardless of the community or health system.

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The model to follow is DRIVE or “Demonstrating Real Improvement Value in Equity” from the National Minority Quality Forum’s Center for Sustainable Health Care Quality and Equity. DRIVE’s tools and resources support community-driven equity in health care. It’s patient-centered and positions community leaders (like faith leaders) as part of the solution. As a part of this effort, we have launched the Faith Health Alliance to support Black churches nationwide in promoting health in their congregations and communities.

We have an opportunity this flu season to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in flu vaccination which can save lives. It simply requires the willingness to bring the right people to the table and use the right tools.

The Rev. Dr. Terris A. King and Bishop J.L. Carter, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, pastor of Liberty Grace Church of God and chief servant of ARK Church.

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