Univ. of Alabama, the health department will repair the houses of the black belt

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama generally falls low on lists ranking U.S. health, including those focused on COVID vaccination rates, general health care, and maternal and child health. Within the state, however, there is one region with the highest health disparities: the black belt.

These 18 counties, nicknamed for the rich soil that stretches across central Alabama, are home to a large population of black Alabamians. Minimal health care options combined with high poverty rates and a host of other factors compounded over the decades have resulted in an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.

The University of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Public Health have identified environmental hazards as a contributor to the problem, and they have a plan to address it.

The two institutions recently announced that they are launching a program to provide free inspections and solutions to approximately 150 low-income Black Belt households.

Inspectors will look for environmental hazards such as indoor air quality, mold, pests, carbon monoxide, lead and asbestos, and if found, the program will provide repairs for up to 10 $000 per household.

The inspections and solutions will be funded by a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced by ADPH earlier this month.

“The funding will be there not just to say, ‘Hey, you have a problem here,’ but to be able to fix and fix those problems so that overall health outcomes are improved in those areas,” project leader Michael says. Rasbury.

Rasbury is associate director of UA SafeState, an academic program dedicated to addressing environmental and occupational health issues in the state.

“The potential dangers are at all levels,” he said. “There are many, but some could be simple solutions.”

For example, if a house has a gas stove but no carbon monoxide detector, the group will judge this to be hazardous to indoor air quality and install a detector.

Another potential problem that project officials expect to find in many homes is mold caused by water intrusion.

“The environment people live in affects their whole lives,” said UA SafeState Executive Director Donald Elswick. “With our partners, we looked at what is the greatest need? And by need, where can we have the most impact? Because we know we don’t have unlimited resources.

Census data—along with Black Belt’s reputation as an underserved and impoverished area—helped the group decide to focus the project there. Although the University of Alabama is not located in the black belt itself, Sharlene Newman, executive director of Alabama Life Research, said its proximity also plays a role.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Newman said. “We really want to get into the communities to hear the voice of the community. We want to know what really concerns them, not just using what the researchers say are the concerns. »

Based on other work she has done in the region, Newman expects chronic disease and mental health to be among the top concerns for Black Belt populations.

The mayors of Fort Deposit in Lowndes County, York in Sumter County, Linden in Marengo County and Lisbon in Choctaw County have already expressed their support for the project.

Rasbury and Newman expect some nominations for participating households to come from these community leaders, and they will also have representatives attending various community events throughout the region to recruit participants.

The University of Alabama will host a program kick-off meeting on March 23 in Tuscaloosa, and the grant will last for 42 months.

If all goes as planned, the project leaders hope to improve the quality of life of at least 150 households by 2026.