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Grant Helps UF Health Partner With Black Churches To Close Racial Health Gaps

Ryan Benk

Four Jacksonville projects aimed at making residents healthier are getting a collective $444,000 boost from the Humana Foundation.

Deborah Galloway, president for Humana’s Central-North Florida region, said grant recipients needed to do more than identify a need — they must have plans to meet it.

“It’s actually working within the community to support and actually improve the wellbeing of the community they serve,” she said.

One of the recipients, the Health-Smart Church Center program,  is focused on minimizing racial disparities.

At the Edward Waters College chapel Monday, a giant, foam check for just under $200,000 was presented to the center’s founder, Dr. Carolyn Tucker.

Tucker is also the director of UF Health’s health disparities research. She said the program will bring health tracking into churches.

“We know historically that black churches have been the hub for all education for black people. They’ve also had politics, health promotion — not just the spiritual part. That’s just one piece,” she said.

Health-Smart, which Tucker started as a pilot program in New York City, will deputize and train monitors to follow 30 congregants in each of six black churches around the New Town Success Zone neighborhood. For two months, overweight church members suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension will also get special coaching to reduce their health risks.

Tucker said the Humana grant will go a long way to eventually expanding Health-Smart to entire congregations and make the program permanent.

“Having medical students, having interns and residents actually teaching people to prepare for health care visits to actually doing the weighing and taking people’s blood pressure and all of that”

In the pilot of the program Tucker did in the Bronx, she found black and Hispanic neighborhoods were most in need of health interventions.

She surveyed almost 700 people at churches there and found programs to encourage healthy eating and drinking among adults were especially needed

Tucker’s research also found around 70 percent of black respondents were overweight or obese and around 65 percent of Hispanics were, while only 60 percent of white churchgoers had the same health problems. Those numbers were drastically higher when looking at black women — 80 percent were overweight or obese.

The other Jacksonville projects receiving Humana money are the University of North Florida’s clinical mental health counseling training program, We Care Jacksonville’s health and wellness program for low-income patients and the First Coast YMCA’s diabetes prevention program.

Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.