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  B
y Martha Thomas
  Photos by David Colwell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miracle Temple Seventh Day Adventist Church in South Baltimore has a "For Sale" sign on its front door. But the congregation hopes to raise $350,000 to buy the building back, in order to establish what Pastor Alex Royes is calling “A Faith Center for Community Wellness Advancement.” If the plan works out, the church will be converted into a neighborhood wellness center with a clinic and health club, a place where people can seek health care as well as attend seminars and meetings—such as Alcoholics Anonymous—promoting both prevention and recovery.

The church is in a section of Baltimore known as Union Square and Montclair that has a high infant mortality rate as well as high incidences of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. There is no doubt that the residents here could benefit from an entire building devoted to advancing good health. According to 1999 census data, close to half the families here live below the poverty level, roughly three-quarters of all males do not complete high school, and about half the residents are described as “not in the labor force.” But one of the area’s unusual characteristics, at least for Baltimore, is that here, people of different races—mainly black and white—live side by side. And this makes the neighborhood particularly interesting to Thomas LaVeist, PhD.

LaVeist, associate professor of Health Policy and Management, has been pondering the issue of health disparities for much of his professional career. Why is it, he wonders, that the infant mortality rate (one of the most effective measures of a population’s overall health) is almost twice as high among African Americans as it is among whites in the United States? And why are white males expected to live eight years longer than their black counterparts? Further, why is it that black men and women are less likely to receive early screenings for breast and colon cancer and therefore have higher mortality rates for these diseases? In both health status and the way treatment is administered, study after study shows blacks lagging behind whites. And while economics plays a role in this complicated picture, having health insurance and a decent income does not eliminate race disparities in health.

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