Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering

Purdue center wants patients' help in heart disease fight

May 23, 2011

[INDIANAPOLIS STAR] Experts know that black men are 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease than non-Hispanic white men, but they don't know why.

Researchers have tried to answer that question for years in the hope of addressing that gap and other health disparities. But one voice has been largely missing from the debate -- that of the patients.

A new Purdue center aims to correct that situation. It's one of a handful of such centers looking at the problem from patients' point of view and among the first to tackle local, national and global issues.

The center for Poverty and Health Disparities, housed in Purdue's Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering, will bring together campus-wide faculty to help find solutions to the problem.

"Communities are disenfranchised because no one cares to listen to their voices," said Mohan J. Dutta, director of the center.

Currently, Dutta is leading a study on the best way to get information about heart disease to blacks in Lake and Marion counties. Many of the study's subjects told interviewers they experience stress related to racism. Now Dutta said he wants to explore whether that contributes to heart disease rates.

The center will collaborate with the Indiana Minority Health Coalition, which was created in 1992 to eliminate the health differences between minorities and nonminorities. Nearly two decades later, there's still work to do, said Carl Ellison, vice president and chief operating officer.

Academic institutions have a key role to play.

"Much of the road to health parity will involve research. There's a lot we need to know," he said.

One study under way focuses on people who use the Lafayette-based Food Finders food bank, which distributes goods to about 140 food pantries in 16 counties.

Interviews with clients have revealed that those who live in small families often lie to receive fresh meat because the pantries prioritize those who have more than three mouths to feed.

This surprised Katy Bunder, the food bank's executive director. Now she plans to reach out to the pantries to fix the problem.

"Church volunteers may have strong ideas about how to deliver food to individuals in need, but they may never have been in need . . . so they don't know what a single 20-year-old mom with two children needs from a food program," Bunder said. "We want to deliver the service for those in need in a way they want it delivered."

From: Shari Rudavsky. The Indianapolis Star, May 23, 2011.

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