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With financing hurdle cleared, panel on health ready to work

A commission started by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner to tackle health disparities among minorities and whites in the area is starting to move forward now that a controversy over funding has been sorted out.

The mayor's commission on minority health was started to address disparities among minorities, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, and whites in eight areas. They are infant mortality, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, immunizations, violence, and mental health.

The Toledo-Lucas County health board, created this year with the union of the city and county health departments, offered in-kind services for the project but originally paused on the mayor's request for $30,000 for the remainder of 2000 and a $50,000 donation next year.

“The board never said no,” Health Commissioner David Grossman said. “It just never said yes. The board asked a lot tougher questions than other funders and wanted to know how did it work and how we fit it. All of the members agreed with the disparities, but it was a matter of who was doing what.”

The board agreed last month to contribute $30,000 on top of in-kind services. Dr. Grossman said funding would depend on the progress of the commission in addressing the disparities.

The commission's budget for 2001 is $200,000, with the city expected to contribute $50,000. The city contributed $30,000 to the commission this year.

The board demanded more information from the commission and its two chairs, retired nurse Mary Gregory and Doni Miller, executive director of the Neighborhood Health Association.

Mayor Finkbeiner had accused the board of being culturally insensitive and of dragging its feet on the proposal.

Ms. Gregory said it was just a matter of providing information to the health board. She said since the commission has no models to follow, it had to develop its plans from scratch and it took time to develop the information the health board was asking for.

“We weren't able to move any quicker than what we were doing,” Ms. Gregory said. “We were able to put together a great deal of documentation and statistics for the board, and that played a significant role in getting funded.”

Joette Clark, the commission's project manager, said she is completing a proposal for additional funding from the Healthy Communities Foundation of Lucas County.

The foundation, Ms. Clark said, is made up of the four area hospital systems - Medical College of Ohio Hospital, Mercy Health Partners, ProMedica Health Systems, and St. Luke's Hospital. It was formed last year to contribute to projects that help improve health in the area. She said the commission found it better to submit a grant request to the foundation than to solicit each individual health system.

Ms. Clark said the commission is developing a plan to introduce the project to the general public and already has developed working groups addressing five of the eight health disparity target areas. She said the commission would coordinate efforts with agencies and organizations like the American Cancer Society, so the commission is not duplicating efforts and properly takes advantage of already existing services.

“We don't need to re-invent the wheel,” Ms. Clark said. “The reason why we're going to be able to do this with a $200,000 budget is because we plan to work with agencies already out there.”

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