BUFFALO, NY -- Pastor George F. Nicholas of the Lincoln Memorial Methodist Church in Buffalo has been working over the years to eliminate health disparities in the Buffalo area for people of color through the Buffalo Center for Health Equity and the African American Health Equity Task Force.
Nicholas notes, "In the greater Buffalo area in 2015 there were 5-6 Zip codes where African Americans were 300% more likely to have their lives shortened by 10-12 years," due to serious health issues created by preventable diseases. The African American Health Equity Task Force was convened by Nicholas to address the root causes of these health disparities overwhelmingly affecting African Americans in Buffalo.
In 2018, Nicholas and the Task Force convened the first annual "Igniting Hope Conference" that began to address these health disparities. The Buffalo Center for Health Equity was created as a result of Nicholas's efforts. The Center will work to generate financial support to conduct research, engage the community, improve neighborhoods, and begin reversing the disparity in health outcomes for African Americans.
The initiatives started by Pastor Nicholas have never been needed more than today when the U.S. is in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic that is both hospitalizing and killing thousands across the nation daily and disproportionately affecting people of color.
Fifteen churches in the Buffalo area have banded together to join a COVID-19 Response Team developed by the Center. The goal of the project is to reduce the impact of COVID-19 by reaching out directly to the community to alert them of available medical services, address food insecurity and assist with health and mental health issues.
George Nicholas's son, Joel, is one of the young people hired to reach out to the community via phone calls. Last fall as a first year running back on the Williams football team that went 7-2, Joel ran for three touchdowns in the Ephs' season-ending win over arch rival Amherst in "The Biggest Little Game in America."
"We're asking people if they need food and if they need it we can deliver it, do they need COVID-19 testing, do they need personal protective gear, and are there any other health issues we can help them with," Pastor Nicholas remarked. "We have the ability to refer folks to 14 testing sites in our area."
"We have put together a script for each of the young folks, provided them with training, and given each a cellphone and a laptop to work from and the phone numbers to call to see if any of our residents are in need," Nicholas added. "It's really a skilled labor team. They are all trained, tech savvy, progressive and even aggressive in getting folks the help they need."
"The script we were provided has a lot of good information for us to share with the folks we're calling, but those of us making the calls have made the script more reflective of who we are so we can better communicate with the community members we are cold calling," said Joel.
"We were given phone numbers from voting lists, but most of our calls are to folks who don't know us or don't recognize the number we're calling from, so we have to explain how we got their number and why we are calling."
Joel who is also the Associate Minister of Music at Lincoln Memorial United Methodist Church, where he is an organist, noted, "It wasn't easy making the calls at first, because it was new to me and most people didn't know who we were or who gave us their number. Some were worried we were calling from collection companies, but it has gotten easier. I'm helping a lot of people with issues they either did not know how to get help with or telling then where they can go to get help."
"We've been fortunate to get a lot of favorable local press lately and that's helping our young callers make quicker connections with folks," said George. "Each church has provided three younger folks to make the calls, which have already surpassed 14,000, and it is hoped that that number will grow to 140,000 calls to the affected communities."
The efforts of the 15 Buffalo area churches is making a difference. Nationally some 33% of all deaths due to COVID-19 are African American citizens where they make up only 13.4% of the population. However, in Erie County and the greater Buffalo area where African Americans make up 14% of the population, the percentage of African American deaths originally reflective of national numbers, is down to 16%.