LITTLE ROCK, AR – “The Arkansas Minority Health Commission is committed to entering into communities to promote health prevention and screenings. The AMHC was developed to assure all minority Arkansans have access to equal health care and to seek ways to provide education, address, treat and prevent diseases and conditions that are prevalent among minority populations,” said Judy Smith, commission Executive Director. Smith served as Executive Director of Arkansas for Drug Free Youth for 18 years before becoming the new Director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission on March 11, 2002.
Act 912 of the 1991 Arkansas General Assembly created the AMHC. The Act identifies minorities as African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians. Some of the efforts that will affect how the Spanish-speaking community perceives the commission will be the launching of the AMHC Minority Health Initiative Media Campaign, which started in September 2002, and an office staff that includes bilingual professionals.
A major focus of the organization is to educate minority groups about health care issues. Smith has hired bilingual staff and the AMHC has presented 2 bilingual public forums in the last year with the support of Cross Cultural Development Group, a Hispanic organization, to assist the commission in their promotion and outreach efforts to the Arkansas Latino community. Smith said, “Community data estimates approximately five minority families a week moving into various towns in Arkansas. That is our number one target, but I want the message to be passed to everyone no matter what their race.”
Smith believes it is critical that the staff of the AMHC represents segments of the different minority populations on the Minority Health Commission. The most recent staff appointments are Kymala Calloway, Administrative Assistant II; Rachael Sanders, Office Clerk; La’Vette Thomas, Administrative Assistant II; Dr. Creshelle Nash, M.D. and Dr. Eduardo Ochoa, M.D., Cynthia Elizondo, Management Project Analyst II; Lo Vonsaravane, Document Examiner II.
Dr. Creshelle Nash, M.D. and Dr. Eduardo Ochoa, M.D., have begun the first phase of the study on minority health. During this phase, the physicians will analyze secondary data with regard to the issue of minority health disparities. “We will find data either through the CDC, the local Health Department or other sources that have data that is relevant to the issue of minority health disparities,” added Smith. Beginning in January, 15 focus groups will be organized for the study.
The AMHC and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension are coordinating a program for Desha County citizens who have diabetes. The AMHC has designed a demonstration project for Desha County in which Dr. Nash and her assistant will educate the minority population about diabetes prevention.
Individuals outside the minority population have also chosen to participate in the program. Program educators will be teaching individuals how to buy food and prepare it more nutritiously, and about the importance of exercise. Some people believe the myth that you have to be rich to eat right and exercise, but Smith says this belief is false. “As director of the Minority Health Commission I want remove those myths in the minority culture of Arkansas,” Smith said.
To enroll in the program, participants must get an official form from their physician or local health unit that lists their weight, cholesterol level, blood pressure, and sugar level. As an incentive, the AMHC is going to pay half of the membership fee of the
sixteen-week course. The AMHC was awarded approximately $900,000 funded by the state tobacco settlements for the fiscal year 2002 and anticipates receiving over $2,300,000 in 2003.
The AMHC is also working on launching a hypertension program that should be in place by the end of January. Physicians will work with the AMHC enabled by a contract with UAMS. AMHC also distributes heath materials that are both informative as well as culturally sensitive.