Christine Stuart photo
James Morton, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Hartford (Christine Stuart photo)

Armed with a $150,000, two-year grant, a 25 groups have joined forces to help create an environment that eliminates health disparities among Black and Latino residents in Hartford.

Hartford is one of 16 cities to receive the grant, which is funded through a partnership with the YMCA and the Centers for Disease Control.

James Morton, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Hartford, said the effort is not about programs.

“This effort is about changing the policies that impact community health,” Morton said, adding that the money won’t be used to create programming because many of the 25 organizations already offer programs. The money will be used to hire a person to make sure the coalition stays on task and works together on coming up with solutions to community health problems like obesity and diabetes.

The problems with which the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health Coalition is tasked will vary. Morton offered an example of a community with too few crosswalks or signals that don’t give a pedestrian enough time to cross the street. He said that problem would lead to a community that’s not walkable, when it’s well known that walking is important to health.

But that was just one example, and it may not be one the coalition decides to tackle.

Dr. Linda Barry of the Connecticut Institute of Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Connecticut Health Center said many farmer’s markets in the state now accept food stamps as payment, but they may not be accessible to everybody or they may not be on a bus route. Or there’s the possibility that someone may not know how to prepare the food they bought at the market when they get it home.

“We’re looking at a big global policy system,” Barry said. “So we’re not trying to change what’s there. We’re trying to make it better or add things to it to improve the outcomes.”

Dr. Marcus McKinney, vice president of St. Francis Care, said the 25 organizations that belong to the coalition are in touch with the “average person living in Hartford.” While that may not seem significant, he said it is because it means they will be working together and responding to what the community really needs.

“We need to look at all the ideas and figure out which ones will have the greatest impact,” Morton said.

The specific ideas are still a work in progress, but the grant gives the coalition the goal of reducing three chronic conditions: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and asthma.

Nationally, the CDC found that the risk of being diagnosed with diabetes is 66 percent higher among Hispanics and Latinos, and 77 percent higher among blacks.

A recent report found that by 2030 obesity in Connecticut will double from 24 percent of the population to 50 percent of the population, Barry said.

“Half of the state of Connecticut,” she emphasized. “Given the other diseases associated with obesity such as stroke and diabetes, as well as disproportionately high rates seen in racial and ethnic communities, the imperative to address this is clear and we need to reverse this trend.”

Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden said the REACH coalition’s work began a few months ago and they’ve worked well together. Part of what may have made the relationship easier is the fact that “this is not a competition for resources.”

When similar nonprofit organizations are fighting for funding in Hartford they’re often competitive with each other. A relieved Wooden, who deals with almost daily requests for funding from organizations, said that’s not the case with this group. He said they’ve agreed to work together to fight health disparities in Hartford.

But for many the project extends beyond Hartford.

Christine Stuart photo
Commissioner of Public Health Jewel Mullen (Christine Stuart photo)

Public Health Commissioner Jewel Mullen said the project is “not just an Albany Avenue project . . . this is just another example of how in Hartford under the leadership of the Y[MCA] and everyone who is part of the REACH coalition [we] can create a model for everyone in the state.”

She said it’s difficult to get people to step outside their individual organization and work toward a new greater good, but that’s exactly what this REACH coalition has done. She also warned that funding for health disparities and racial equity is drying up, which makes their job that much more important.

“Resources are shrinking and we understand that,” Mullen said. But “that reminds us that racial and ethnic approaches to community health and achieving equity are really everybody’s work.”

She urged the group to make sure it documents its impact.