Wheaton Franciscan reaches out to African-American men

August 15, 2014


Eric Von, a website publisher focused on providing African-American men with relevant health care information, partners with Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare on outreach efforts to educate black men about their health risks and to encourage appropriate screenings, check-ups and lifestyle changes. He says of the Glendale, Wis.-based system's outreach efforts: "They get it."

About a decade ago, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare launched a program educating Milwaukee barbers with a large number of African-American customers about free screenings for prostate cancer offered nearby at Wheaton Franciscan - St. Joseph Campus. African-American men have the highest incidence rate of prostate cancer in the nation, and are twice as likely as white men to die of the disease. Black men also are more likely to die of colorectal cancer than white men.

Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare reaches out
Danielle Withers, bottom left, director of community relations for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, is among the associates and volunteers checking in attendees at Men's Health Night. Wheaton Fransican - St. Joseph Campus co-sponsored the July event at Marquette University Alumni Union in Milwaukee.

Wheaton Franciscan employees asked the barbers to display free booklets about prostate and colorectal cancer in their shops, as a way the barbers could begin a conversation with their customers in a trusted environment about the cancer screenings and doctor visits.

When prostate cancer screening recommendations changed to reduce the use of PSA testing, Wheaton Franciscan asked the barbers to alter their message too, encouraging customers to check with their doctors about whether prostate cancer screening is appropriate for them. The program continues at 23 barbershops, and "the men were asking for more," said Rosha Hamilton, director of community and patient health education services for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare. The system built on its success and now plans barbershop events where nurses and health workers calculate men's body mass index or gauge their blood pressure to help them better understand their health status. It expanded its outreach in the last few years to better educate black men and women about chronic conditions, like diabetes. The system has improved its data collection methods to better assess health disparities, and it has targeted its communications efforts too. It is a sponsor of the Brain, Brawn & Body website Von founded (see sidebar), and it co-sponsors with the website and others an annual Men's Health Night, to provide African-American men with education and health care resources.

Involving celebrities, spouses
To get men to Men's Health Night, the system tries to reach both men and women through radio ads, texts, emails and flyers. Theresa Jones, vice president of diversity, inclusion and health equity strategies for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, explained, "Men don't often seek out health information until they need it; the women who love men do."

About 400 people participated in the 2014 Men's Health Night, where they heard from African-American physicians, nurses and nationally known celebrities, including syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner.

Targeted outreach
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare also works to reach African-Americans in the Milwaukee area with its approach in diabetes education, offering classes at black churches and other community sites.

The pastor of Greater Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Milwaukee, Johnny C. White Jr., said Type 2 diabetes is common enough among African-Americans that it's not unusual to hear someone say, "He has sugar. She has sugar." One of the things White appreciates about the classes being offered after a Bible study at his predominantly African-American church is that it teaches people Type 2 diabetes is not inevitable, that lifestyle changes including better diet and exercise can lessen diabetes risk factors. At the church, meals for congregants or the needy now more frequently are prepared by baking chicken rather than frying it. Fruits are offered, rather than just cakes and pies for dessert, White said.

African-Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes: According to the American Diabetes Association, 4.9 million, or 18.7 percent of African-Americans age 20 or older have diabetes. African-American people are 1.8 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites.

Engaging students
Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare hospitals traditionally offered a four-hour diabetes management education session for patients. In a pilot program aimed at reaching more African-Americans with diabetes, the system set out to determine, in part, whether stretching the patient education over a longer period to reinforce learning and to encourage adoption of healthy behaviors would positively impact patient outcomes. Participants met for five weeks in sessions facilitated by a community health worker who supported participants through the program's completion. At the conclusion of the course, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare tested participants on their knowledge of how to manage the illness; 96 percent of participants scored at least a 90 percent on the test. Seven participants who hadn't gotten an annual eye exam before taking the course had one done as a result of the course, and 23 of the 50 participants who hadn't had a regular foot exam got one after learning about diabetic foot care.

After this pilot, the classes continue at multiple sites in the Milwaukee area. Jones said the system is working to increase attendance and participation in these classes and its health events.

Von, the website publisher, said by reaching out into the African-American community Wheaton Franciscan-St. Joseph is ensuring "people feel comfortable with their hospital. There need not be this fear of the institution."

Brain, Brawn & Body website zeros in on men's health
Eric Von, publisher of the Brain, Brawn & Body website for African-American men, said he was diagnosed in 1992 with polymyositis, an inflammatory disease, and he has had three heart attacks. But, when he tried to find helpful health information, he didn't find a lot that seemed directed toward black men. "I couldn't find anything that felt like it was talking to me," he explained.

He and others, including his spouse, Faithe Colas, developed the website to fill that gap. It compiles information from other sites, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, but uses images of African-Americans and a straightforward approach in its writing to reach a primarily black audience.

Von worked in Milwaukee talk radio and television for years; co-publisher Colas published a well-known African-American newspaper, the Milwaukee Courier.

Von said the site has about 30,000 subscribers and while it's easiest to market it to residents in the Milwaukee region, some subscribe from as far away as South Africa. Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare is the exclusive health care sponsor of the Brain, Brawn & Body organization that produces the website, though it did not disclose the sponsorship details. Website publishers and the health system employees often work together to get health information to black men.

Data helps Wheaton Franciscan relate to diverse populations
Theresa Jones, vice president of diversity and inclusion strategies for Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, says in 2010, as the system became more focused on health disparities, it trained its patient registration and admissions staff on how to ask questions about race, ethnicity and the primary language spoken by patients and their caregivers. The data is used to inform caregivers about the characteristics of diverse populations served, so they can better relate to and understand the needs of patients of all backgrounds, to align care approaches with patient needs and understand the impact of language and culture on patient experience, decision making and health outcomes, she said.

The data is analyzed in several ways, including by the site where patients receive care, so that Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare now knows that one location in southeast Wisconsin has a 66 percent African-American population; 30. 5 percent of patients served at another site speak Spanish. The data allow the system to better understand where resources are needed, and how to educate care providers about the populations served. In all, the system provides services to patients who communicate using 41 different languages, including American Sign Language. The system uses the research to develop cultural competence education which it integrates into its education for associates, leaders and clinicians. It developed informational sheets that employees can use to access quick information about nuances of patient populations served, she explained.


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.