Life inside Buffalo’s five poorest ZIP codes is the opposite of a comfort zone. Inferior infrastructure, violence, drug addiction, lack of easy access to healthful food and other worries linked to a low standard of living contribute to shorter life spans.
A group of pastors on the East Side decided five years ago to call attention to the disparities in health outcomes for residents of the most challenged neighborhoods. The University at Buffalo is about to supercharge that effort, which is welcome news.
UB President Satish Tripathi this month announced the creation of the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute, which will conduct research into the causes of health disparities in the region and develop potential solutions.
The university’s resources and expertise are well-matched to the task. U.S. News this year listed UB as the 31st-ranked public university in the country. Ten different schools – medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy, social work, architecture and planning, law, management, the Graduate School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences – will contribute to the institute.
The center will be set up with funding from UB, then rely on grants to keep it going. The National Institutes of Health, which funds various studies of health disparities, figures to be a major source of support.
Dr. Timothy Murphy, senior associate dean of clinical and translational research at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, will lead the institute. Murphy says they will put a special emphasis on having members of the community interact with the researchers and help drive their agenda.
“The long-standing traditional model of how universities perform research is that the university decides what is important to study and then essentially attempts to impose that on the community,” Murphy told The News.
For example, Murphy said, the institute may wish to test ways to do a better job of screening African Americans for high blood pressure.
“If we as university researchers sit in our offices and design ways to do that, we can be almost certain it won’t work because that’s been tried,” he said. “We need to frame our research from the point of view of the community.”
Rev. George F. Nicholas is pastor of Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church and a founder of the African American Health Disparities Task Force, formed in 2014. Nicholas has pointed out some of the social determinants that contribute to poor health outcomes, including income level, employment status, education, physical environment and the existence of social support networks.
Nicholas punctuates his message with a stern message: “I can’t keep burying 30- and 40-year-olds.”
The institute will build upon several projects already underway at UB, including a course taught at the Jacobs School called “Health in the Neighborhood,” in which medical students learn about health inequities.
Tripathi, Murphy and Nicholas were joined at the announcement by Mayor Byron Brown, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and State Sen. Tim Kennedy, among others. We hope other community leaders will also lend support.
A shortened life span is much too high a price to pay for being poor. It will take a village, as the saying goes, to offer all of our neighbors an equal chance at growing old.