Black Health Care Coalition advocates for healthy choices

It was 26 years ago when Jasper Fullard Jr. and a handful of other physicians decided that if they wanted to make an impact on black health care, it was time to go straight to the community.

They founded the Black Health Care Coalition — a nonprofit organization that has since waged an aggressive education and outreach campaign against diabetes, cancer, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and much more. The organization has gone into churches, community centers and elsewhere to politely nudge residents to participate in screenings, to exercise and to make healthy choices.

Years after he helped found the organization, Fullard stepped down in late 2011 from his position as board chairman. The 72-year-old internal medicine physician will still serve as a vital adviser to the group. Although much has been accomplished since the coalition was formed, Fullard said there is still much work to do.

“We know that we always have a situation where minorities will die five to 10 years earlier than non-blacks,” Fullard said.

The nonprofit coalition has several outreach programs that provide services such as health screenings and education seminars. Although the coalition is focused on disparities in black health care, its goal is to improve the lot for all and no one is turned away, said Melissa Robinson, president and CEO of the Black Health Care Coalition.

“By improving the population of the black community, it will improve the population as a whole,” Fullard said.

Yet reversing lifestyle choices isn’t easy, he acknowledged. Economics and access play a role.

In recent years, he said, the coalition has worked to help the black community gain access to health care and make better nutritional choices.

“If we could do more for nutrition and lifestyle choices as well, then we could certainly bridge the gap much faster, but that’s not easy to do,” Fullard said.

It involves persuading generations to cook differently, to choose healthier foods and to be proactive with health screenings.

One of the more frustrating situations for Fullard is the lack of safe and accessible walking trails in the urban core.

“If we had more exercising, walking trails and parks in the area where we could take advantage of, I think that would help,” he said.

The problem is compounded by the lack of grocery stores offering fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables, Fullard said.

“If these things were made more available in their community at a reasonable price, I think that would help,” he said.

Many city leaders have long been angered that some retailers have stayed away from operating basic businesses in the urban core.

“But you will find a liquor store and a fast food store close by,” he pointed out. “And people in the low economic areas are played upon more because they feel like they can’t do any better.”

Fullard, who will be honored this week by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City, said there is much work left to be accomplished in health care overall. It’s a fight that he doesn’t intend to stop fighting. He wishes more people would step and take on a role as well.

“We will be fighting this for years and years to come,” he said. “It’s an ongoing problem. It’s not a reason to grow weary or give up.”