Wednesday, April 26, 2017


When Terrance Afer-Anderson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010, he could have retreated from the world or crawled into a shell; instead he decided to build a bridge.

But Afer-Anderson is one of many in Hampton Roads who has helped to build bridges that connect underserved minority communities to quality healthcare. The point is this. As the nation observes National Minority Health Month in April by zeroing in on the theme: “Bridging Health Equities Across Communities,” try to envision the feat that Afer-Anderson actually performed after his doctor handed him a prostate cancer diagnosis seven years ago.

“My head more than my feet led me to the doctor’s office because the knowledge in my head told me to seek routine health screening,” said Afer-Anderson, who worked for the Norfolk Health Department for about two decades and retired in 2016. “This means I knew I needed to do my routine checkups and I did them,” said Afer-Anderson who developed the habit of going to the doctor for routine visits because he had asthma as a child.

While a 2016 Kaiser report showed that about 20 percent (17.2 percent) of all minorities are uninsured, Afer-Anderson has comprehensive health insurance. But at the time of his diagnosis, he also had a physician who always told him his health was fine. Changing physicians Afer-Anderson underwent several PSA tests and a rectal exam that showed he had prostate cancer.

In plain terms, the PSA test is a blood test that screens for prostate cancer. The test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. The PSA test detects a protein in cancerous and noncancerous tissues in the prostate, which is a small gland located below the bladder.

“During my biopsy for prostate cancer, everything was done pretty quickly within a couple of weeks,” Afer-Anderson said. “The diagnosis came back fairly quickly. No one knew what was going on with me until I received the diagnosis. Later, I told my support group what was going on in a regular meeting. When I told the group at a regular meeting about my prostate cancer diagnosis, Charlie Hill, a prostate cancer survivor embraced me physically and spiritually at the meeting. He became my big brother and mentor.”

In other words, Afer-Anderson did not resemble some minorities who are seeking health care. Afer-Anderson had health insurance that paid for routine health tests and ongoing care. He also had a habit of monitoring his health. More to the point, he did not suffer unduly like many minorities with critical health problems because the real problem, according to the groundbreaking 1985 Heckler report is that many minorities do not benefit “fully or equitably from the fruits of science or from those systems responsible for translating and using health science technology.”

In other words, the Heckler report said many minorities with serious health problems suffer unduly and disproportionately because many minority patients do not receive ongoing, high-end health care. But Afer-Anderson crossed the bridge that saved his life because he was able to pay for and receive ongoing, high-end treatment. During treatment, his highest PSA level dropped from a high of about 7.8 to a low of 0.01.

“That was not a high PSA level,” Afer-Anderson said of his earliest PSA level. “And this is the benefit of early detection. You get to choose your own treatment method. I chose my own method. And I haven’t had any of the side effects that men have with prostate cancer because I have been very blessed.” Specifically, the side effects of prostate cancer are frequent urination, lower back pain, and blood in urine.”

Afer-Anderson chose a treatment method called Brachytherapy. This means radioactive seeds or sources are placed in or near the tumor itself. This method delivers a high radiation dose to the tumor while reducing the amount of exposure from radiation to nearby healthy tissues. The term “brachy” is Greek for short distance.

“Because mine was not aggressive, I opted for something called Brachy therapy,” Afer-Anderson explained. “I did that because of my busy schedule and I only had to do it one time. I did this for six or seven months. It was done on an outpatient basis in the hospital and only took only about four hours. I went back to work two days later.”

Soon, he was cured. More important, he continues to reach back to help others. Specifically, he was the chair of the public relations and marketing committee for the 2008-2011 African-American Men’s Health Forums. They were sponsored by the American Cancer Society (while he was still working at the health department and also undergoing treatment). Later, he joined the Prostate Health Education Network and moderated discussions on prostate education or served as master of ceremonies at consortium conferences in Washington, D.C.

In 2012, he launched a public health initiative called Illuminating Good Health Coalition. Co-sponsored by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities which provided the keynote speaker, the event attracted about 70 people. More important, 360 health screenings were done. Most recently, in August 2016 he received a $20,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to increase prostate cancer awareness. He is completing projects that will help close the disparity gap in minority neighborhoods.


“The day that Charlie Hill hugged me in front of our support group, he told me he was drafting me into the army of prostate survivors,” Afer-Anderson said. “And I believed him.”
Afer-Anderson added, “Let me tell you how this works. That event I staged in 2012 – some men found their PSA levels were high. They were referred to physicians. I know of at least one incident where one man was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He said that if had not come to the event for free-screening he might have never known.

That event proved to be a bridge not just for that one man but for four to five other men who came and found they had elevated PSA levels.”

Afer-Anderson has built numerous bridges in minority communities because he believes in getting routine checkups. He also believes in linking and connecting others to health care. In a sense, his beliefs have helped more minorities face and also weather storms similar to those many workers encountered while building the legendary Golden Gate Bridge. Although the landmark bridge opened to the public in May 1937 and more than two billion vehicles have crossed it.

Bridge-building is not for the faint of heart because those who erected the expansive Golden Gate Bridge ran into frequent storms and encountered widespread opposition including skepticism from cost-wary city officials, skittish environmentalists and ferry operators who believed the new bridge would ruin their profits. Seasoned engineers, meanwhile, predicted that it was not only technically impossible to build the bridge, but the needed funding would be impossible to find during the beginning of the Great Depression. Ultimately, the bridge was financed by a $35 million bond issue, which was passed in California in 1930, according to news reports.

The point is this. Zero in on some of the obstacles that those real-life builders encountered on the Golden Gate Bridge. And it explains why Shannon Tooten, 29, smiles widely when she talks about the 250 low-income patients she has helped to receive free-or-reduced-medications in the past year at the Newport News Health Clinic, which retired Riverside Regional Medical Center administrator Golden Hill launched in 2010.

“Say, I have a patient who needs a prescription that will cost $25 or more,” said Tooten who has worked for about a year as a medication assistant caseworker at the Newport News Health Clinic.

“I can go on the data base and get it at a discount through a preferred network,” said Tooten, who was treated as a patient at the Newport News Health Clinic before she became an employee. She visited the clinic to obtain a birth control implant device. There, administrators linked and connected her to health care providers who provided their services at reduced prices.

Tooten said, “So I understand how it feels when I tell a patient how to buy a prescription at a free or reduced price. Some of them leave me saying, ‘I feel so much better now.’ In some cases, I have helped patients get a prescription that will cost them only $25, after I go on the data base and help them get a discount through a preferred network.”

In other words, like thousands of anonymous workers built the legendary Golden Gate Bridge, the same applies to numerous health-care workers in Hampton Roads including Wooten who works behind the scenes at the clinic to help build a bridge for underserved minorities.

Tooten’s tech-savvy skills and personal experiences are helping to ease the (disproportionate) level of suffering that many minorities with health problems routinely encounter, as the 1984 Heckler report noted. But the ground-breaking Heckler report was published over 30 years ago.

“I like being a bridge that helps others gain access to free or reduced medication,” Tooten said. “I have the ability to use the internet for patients who don’t have the internet or a smart phone. I am the middle man to better health,” she added, smiling widely.

Wooten said, “It makes me feel warm inside when I help others. For example, I have a Hepatitis C patient who needs medication (Harvoni), which costs $30,000 for 12 weeks.”
According to news reports, Harvoni had a more than 95 percent success rate in a recent study on 865 patients with various types of Hepatitis C. Those who received Harvoni once daily for 12 weeks were cured.

Describing the bridge that she helps to build at her office computer every single day in the clinic in Newport News, Tooten said, “I was able to help the patient get the medication (Harvoni) for free. He thanked me so much. They were going to deliver it but it is so expensive that they needed a signature before they would deliver the prescription. I called him and told him. He did what was necessary and received his medication. He is so happy. He said he is blessed. Oh yes, some of our patients visit our clinic and later make donations.”
Tooten is in her 20s. So she does not have any serious health problems. Still, she feels uplifted after she links and connects others to equitable health care. “I don’t have any special health issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol, or diabetes,” Tooten said. “Still, I would say I’ve helped about 250 patients in a year to get free or discounted prices on medication.”

Next WeekPart Two – How a Newport News Clinic and a Retired Doctor are Building Bridges that are Helping Many.

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor

A new program for residents of South Hampton Roads offers support to caregivers with a family member living with Alzheimer’s or other memory loss diseases.

The Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health (CEALH), in partnership with the University of Virginia and the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, recently announced the expansion of its F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. program into South Hampton Roads, including Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Suffolk.

F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. – short for Family Access to Memory Impairment and Loss Information, Engagement and Support – provides counseling and support for caregivers at no cost over several months. In some areas, telehealth opportunities are available.

“The goal is to help bring entire families together in big and small ways to help the primary caregiver in caring for a family member with dementia,” said Dr. Christine Jensen, CEALH’s Director of Health Services Research. “Compassionate, trained counselors assess the individual situation, help with understanding of memory loss and how it may progress, develop an individualized care program for the family and discuss coping strategies for stress and changes in personality or behaviors.”

Through this New York University-Caregiver Intervention program, caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of memory loss receive six free counseling sessions, and one follow up, with trained counselors to help reduce stress and depression, increasing family support, enhancing knowledge for managing memory disorders, and providing assistance with finding local services and resources.

“The F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. program is the longest running intervention to support dementia related caregivers out there,” Jensen said. “Caregivers and their families are getting free confidential sessions with counselors who are certified in the very specific type of care. Not just for the caregiver, but for the entire family and team.” This presentation of the program is the first time this innovative program has been offered in Virginia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of people 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015 was 130,000. That’s expected to jump to 190,000 by 2025. Among those adults 45 and older, 11 percent, or one in every nine, are currently experiencing memory loss or confusion.

There are more than 450,000 caregivers in the Commonwealth alone providing this unpaid care to these individuals, according to the Association.

PBS recently visited CEALH in Williamsburg to film a portion of an upcoming documentary featuring the program and highlight its impact on families.

F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S. “gave me the opportunity to discuss ‘feelings’ about my situation that I would not normally do,” one participant reported.

“It made me understand that I was not in this thing alone,” another said.

Additional benefits of the program include assistance in finding local services and resources and access to respite care during counseling sessions.

“As the sessions went on, I was able to mobilize resources for me that I wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for the counselor – from support groups to financial planning to just figuring out what the issues were,” one program participant said. “She really helped guide me.”

Similar programs, Jensen added, have been shown to delay the need for nursing home care.

“We’ve had folks, primary caregivers, who weren’t quite sure how to tell other family members they needed help,” Jensen said. “They didn’t know how to divide the load of responsibilities. Bringing families together in this guided support with a counselor who is skilled helps folks realize they are not alone.”

To determine if you are eligible for the for this program or to learn more, call Riverside toll free at (888) 597-0828 Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Riverside Center for Excellence in Aging and Lifelong Health is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to integrate interdisciplinary aging research with clinical capabilities to develop innovative programming that can be applied and sustained by Riverside Health System, the community and other providers of aging-related services to improve care and better meet the needs of a growing older adult population. Services and programs include, among others, a Geriatric Assessment Clinic, Driver Rehabilitation Clinic, Chronic Disease Self Management Program, ‘Caring for You, Caring for Me’ Program and Operation Family Caregiver.

To learn more, visit

Men’s Health Network (MHN) is encouraged by the latest recommendations from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) that urges men to talk to their healthcare providers about when, or if, they need to be screened for prostate cancer.  This recommendation is not yet final and is open for public comment.

The group’s latest draft recommendation is an improvement over the 2012 decision to recommend against the use of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing for the early detection of prostate cancer.

MHN believes that the Task Force’s latest findings will encourage more men to talk to their medical providers about prostate cancer screening.

“While we recognize the need for screening is greater in some men than others, we hope the latest recommendation will encourage all men to take a more active role in their health and wellness,” said Ana Fadich, Vice President of MHN.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with more than 161,000 new cases each year and over 26,000 deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. African-American men, men with a family history of the disease, and men exposed to Agent Orange and some other chemicals are at greater risk. 

“MHN believes all men should speak to their healthcare provider about a baseline prostate cancer screening at age 40, earlier if they wish, and consult with their health care provider about screenings beyond that age,” Fadich said.  “We are particularly encouraged by the acknowledgment that ‘patient preferences’ are critical to important screenings and healthy outcomes.”

“As a society, we have taken prostate cancer too lightly for far too long. As the second leading cancer killer of men, it occupies a niche among diseases that closely parallels breast cancer among women both in terms of incidence and death rates in their respective populations,” said Dr. Jean Bonhomme, a physician, board member of MHN, and founder of the National Black Men’s Health Network. “Every man should be given the opportunity to consider screening, especially those at higher than average risk owing to race, family history, or other factors.“

 “The importance of PSA testing is that it’s bringing men into contact with the healthcare system,” said Dr. Ramon Perez, an urologist and advisor to MHN. “Hispanic men may not have access to adequate healthcare – it is becoming a major problem in treating problems that are an epidemic.”

High-risk communities also benefit from increased communication with health providers.

“Community outreach programs serving high-risk populations facilitate communication between community members and healthcare providers,” said Darrell Sabbs, legislative affairs and community benefits manager for Phoebe Health Systems. “In many cases, these groups may not access the healthcare system and have a dialogue with their medical professionals about PSA test among other issues.”

“Increased communication between men and their medical providers will cause them to be more knowledgeable about their health and make more informed choices,” said James Morning, advisor to MHN, Vietnam veteran, and a prostate cancer survivor. “It is important that men, particularly African-American men, get a complete check-up, including the PSA. So many men today are being diagnosed with later-stage prostate cancer because they were not regularly screened.”

The Task Force is a government supported panel composed of national medical experts whose recommendations influence healthcare providers and both public and private insurance coverage decisions. Preventive screenings rated A or B by the Task Force are covered by the Affordable Care Act. 

MHN’s screening recommendations for men and for women can be found at

For more information on MHN’s ongoing Dialogue on Men’s Health series, visit

Men’s Health Network (MHN) is joining organizations and communities across the country in April to recognize Testicular Cancer Awareness Month as part of its pledge to advocate for the health and wellness of men and their families.

 Testicular cancer is the most common cancer among men aged between 15 and 35 years old and has one of the highest survival rates if found early. That’s what makes prevention techniques and overall awareness critically important.

“Testicular cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer in young men and boys but remains a very treatable cancer,” said Ana Fadich, MPH, CHES, Vice President at MHN. “That is why awareness is essential in reaching younger men who may not receive cancer prevention messages and educate them about the importance of early detection.”

The website helps educate people about risk factors, warning signs, and treatment options for the disease. The site offers videos, a social media toolkit, downloadable brochures, research articles, and examples of awareness activities to turn a difficult-to-discuss problem into an interactive and easier-to-approach learning experience.

MHN and its partner organizations are urging men to take a more active role in their health and be aware of how to screen for testicular cancer.

“Early detection for testicular cancer is absolutely critical. Many years of life from too many men and boys have been lost because of this disease,” said Dr. Michael J. Rovito, Assistant Professor of Health Sciences at the University of Central Florida and Founder of Men’s Health Initiative, Inc., “It’s time males became more aware of the risks and began to take action to become familiar with their bodies.”

Rovito further suggested that “males should perform testicular self-examination monthly to monitor if anything abnormal develops. If something out of the ordinary is discovered, males should speak to their healthcare provider immediately.”

Learn more about MHN at and follow them on Twitter @MensHlthNetwork and Facebook at For more information on MHN’s ongoing Dialogue on Men’s Health series, visit   

The pollen count is through the roof and once again, you have a stuffy nose, sinus pain, fatigue and reduced sense of smell and taste. Oh great, another bad allergy season, you think.
And you’d be wrong. These are the hallmarks of a sinus infection, not allergies, though most allergy patients can’t tell the difference.

Thirty-five million Americans suffer from nasal allergies and 7 million suffer from chronic sinus infections, yet most people can’t tell the difference between these two conditions.
Here’s a breakdown of which symptoms belong to which ailments.

The Common Cold: If your congested nose and breathing difficulty last longer than seven to 10 days, it’s probably not a cold. Most likely, it’s allergies, and needs to be treated with an antihistamine, not a decongestant.

Seasonal Allergies – If your sinus congestion is accompanied by watery or itchy eyes and it tends to last several weeks, it’s may be allergies. The problem is, many often treat their allergies like a cold, with over-the-counter decongestants, which will work in the short run but are not advisable. When someone is taking a daytime decongestant every day and a nighttime one to sleep, for weeks and weeks, this is not good. Especially when their allergy might be due to an environmental trigger, such as a feather pillow, that could be easily eliminated.

Sinusitis or Chronic Sinusitis – With sinusitis, the nasal passageways become inflamed and the liter or more of mucus created every day by your body gets backed up in the sinuses. This is when you get patients complaining of headache, pressure or pain in their face and chronic fatigue.

A headful of mucus is an exhausted head, one that’s hard to lift off the pillow and patients can be irritable and fatigued on most days,“ says Silvers. If you suffer from facial tenderness, pressure or pain, headache behind the eyes and forehead, or loss of taste or smell and fatigue, you may have sinusitis.

If you experience this three or more times a year, you may have chronic sinusitis, and should consult with your physician or an ear, nose and throat specialist. What most people don’t know, is that you can have sinusitis without having a runny or stuffy nose or difficulty breathing, because the mucus is congested further back in the sinuses.

If you suffer from any of the above symptoms and they do not resolve within a week or so (and hence are unlikely to be a cold or flu), you should consider seeing your physician, who may refer you to an allergist or an ear, nose and throat specialist. The severity of your facial pain, headache and sensation of pressure is probably the most important factor in distinguishing sinus infections from allergies. Allergies usually don’t cause nearly as much pain and pressure as sinus infections do.

Another way to tell the difference between allergies and sinus infections is to note how they develop and how long they last. Sinus infections don’t just suddenly appear out of nowhere; they always follow either allergies or an upper respiratory infection or cold that has been present for at least 10 days. Untreated sinus infections typically last about two weeks. In contrast, allergies tend to be seasonal; their intensity is affected by the local allergen count.

An itchy, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes – medically known as conjunctivitis – are an indication of allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. They are not a sign of a sinus infection, but if you suffer from allergies, you may have these symptoms along with your sinus symptoms.

Most likely, right about now, many of the readers of this column are dealing with springtime, seasonal allergies.

Allergies can produce many of the same cold-like symptoms as a sinus infection, including sinus pressure, a runny nose and congestion. But the condition itself, called allergic rhinitis, is different. It is caused by an allergic response to allergens, such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander.

Pollen season can begin as early as February and last through October, although weather patterns and your location can alter the start and end dates. If you’re already dreading the return of sneezing, sniffles, stuffiness, and itchy, watery or dry eyes, take steps to keep allergy symptoms from activating your immune system.

Spring pollen is now at our doors and can often look like a fine dusting of snow. Sometimes it’s white but often pollen is yellow and can leave a powdery layer on your car and windows. At that point it may seem obvious why pollen could be irritating your eyes and sinus passages. Yet pollen, even when unseen, can cause the body’s immune system to overreact. The body thinks the pollen is a hostile invader and releases antibodies and chemicals (histamine) to defend itself. It’s the histamine which is released into the blood that causes the runny nose and sneezing.

What can you do about allergies?

Millions of people search for allergy remedies and take antihistamines to block the histamines from building up in the blood. People who do this can have success, but at a price. Many report drowsiness, constipation, anxiety and dry mouth. Ultimately, we don’t know the long-term effects of these synthetic drugs on our bodies. Use caution when taking them on a regular basis.

If you suspect your nasal congestion and other symptoms are the result of sinus problems rather than allergies, you may just need to be patient, take care of yourself and use over-the-counter medications as needed until the infection clears. However, if symptoms last for more than two weeks, or if they are severe, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

By Glenn Ellis

If the Republican-backed Affordable Health Care Act  (AHCA) is passed, millions of Americans currently enrolled in Obamacare would lose their  insurance and see fewer benefits and higher costs, especially if you are poor and working class.

Research by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (CIFA) says thousands of Virginia’s  poorest and vulnerable residents  currently covered by the ACA or  Obamacare, will be harmed by the proposed new health plan which is designed  to replace the current ACA.

Last week the Congressional Budget Office released a report stating that 24 million fewer people would have coverage within a decade and the level of the uninsured would jump 14 million next year,  if the GOP’s health care  blueprint is put in place by then.

In Virginia  according to CIFA policy analyst Michael Cassidy, 31 percent  or more  of the 327,000 people covered by the ACA in Virginia would lose their coverage under the Republican plan.

“The impact will be significant,” said Cassidy. “It is to safe to characterize it that way because thousands of Virginians  are at risk … it will be like a tidal wave.”

The proposed AHCA removes the individual  and employer mandates and reduces the tax credits and subsidies that poor and working class people use to buy insurance under the current ACA in the Virginia.

One of the most hated part of the ACA was the  individual mandate to force people to buy insurance or pay a penalty via the tax system. Using  slight-of-hand,  the GOP’s AHCA will impose a penalty of a 30 percent surcharge  if you  drop insurance and  seek to reacquire it.

Healthcare advocates call it a “bait and switch” tactic the Republicans have not fully explained to supporters of their efforts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with Trumpcare.

Now 319,000 people use a tax credit in Virginia under the ACA, based on their income, to acquire healthcare insurance.

The ACHA would use age. The older you, are the higher it will be.

The ACA restricts charging older people more for coverage. The plan the Republicans will be voting in the House this week, would allow healthcare insurance companies to charge older adults up to five times what they charge younger people.  The ACA  barred the companies from charging more than three times.

Under the ACA,  insurance companies had to use profits to directly cover  their clients instead of using it for operating cost, notably high salaries. That rule would die under the AHCA.

Gaylene Kanoyton has  organized educational forums on the ACA over the past four years and Celebrate Healthcare  program to  enroll people in  Hampton Roads.

To date, Celebrate Healthcare has enrolled over 15,000 and educated over 25,000-plus citizens.

Kanoyton said that despite the quickness in which the ACHA has been pushed through the current U.S. House of Representatives it is not sure if it will be  passed as it stands now,
She said there will be an open  enrollment period for the ACA starting November 1, despite the current push to pass the AHCA.

“Even if it does passes, nothing will change  immediately,” said Kanoyton. “It took them three years to get the Affordable Care Act up and running. There would be at least that length of time for the Republicans to set up administration enrollment process and policies.

Plus we are not sure how many of the GOP plan will become reality. Now is too early.”

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

He’s has already achieved one version of the American Dream.  

After growing up in poverty in Flint, Mich., DeVon Taylor ’12 graduated from Old Dominion University and from Harvard Medical School in 2016. Taylor now has begun a three-year residency in emergency medicine at the prestigious Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. 

And that experience has inspired Taylor to pursue a new version of the American Dream, going beyond personal success: expanding access to health care.  

“A large proportion of the patients we see in the emergency rooms have nowhere else to go,” Taylor, 33, said. “It’s something as a country that I feel we haven’t adequately addressed. Hopefully, that will be an area I am able to make a mark in.”  

Taylor rarely saw a doctor when he was younger. As a teenager in Flint, he lived in a run-down home in a poor neighborhood. His mother worked multiple jobs to keep the family going. 

After barely graduating from high school, Taylor joined the Navy, working in the nuclear power program in Norfolk for more than eight years. When he enrolled at Old Dominion, he had already trained his focus on a medical career.

He graduated in 2012 with a 4.0 grade point average and a degree in public health. Taylor became the first Old Dominion graduate to go directly to Harvard Medical School, and on a full scholarship.

He maintained his ties with the University while at Harvard, mentoring minority undergraduates interested in entering the medical field. 

During his time in medical school, Taylor was national speaker of the House of Delegates for the Student National Medical Association, elected by students representing every medical school in the nation, and served as a member of the association’s board.  

He also participated in several research projects, studying the rollout of the Pioneer Accountable Care Organizations, a new risk-sharing payment model that emerged from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.  

He presented his findings to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. 

That work fits with Taylor’s belief that access to medical services, particularly for children, is a right that all Americans should enjoy. 

“To me, it doesn’t make sense that we have made this choice as a society, in the richest country in the world,” he said. 

Taylor would like to practice in a medically underserved community. He’d also like to work on the front lines of health policy to ensure that others receive the level of care that eluded him as a youth. 

“There are people who work hard but who still can’t afford the cost of health care,” Taylor said. “Like my mother.”

Brendan O’Hallarn is a public relations specialist at Old Dominion University. 

By Dr. Cynthia Burwell

On Saturday, January 28th, 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., members of the community will convene Tackling Health Disparities in the African-American Community Conference at Second Calvary Baptist Church to “deal” with health disparities that have negative health consequences in our community, says D. K. seneca Bock, who is the Co-Chair for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Health Equity Council.

The Center of Excellence in Minority Health Disparities was developed three years ago as one of Norfolk State University’s strategic initiatives in its Six Year Strategic Plan to help promote health equity and eliminate health disparity.

Using the Community-Based Participation Research model, this work includes collaborative research and programming with various community-based health organizations across Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Health disparities are defined as the “inequalities that occur in the provision of health care and access to health care across different racial, ethnic and socio-economic groups.

During the conference, Bock says the main role she will play is of facilitator and policy expert. Below are comments from three of the conference participants: Dr. Allan Noonan, former Assistant Surgeon General, and pre-eminent health policy expert; Claudette Overton, and Cora Bridgers (both breast cancer survivors) and leaders of the church’s Cancer Ministry.

Community Voices

CB (Dr. Cythnia Burwell):  Dr. Noonan, as one of the founding members of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Health Equity Council, what would you say are some of the most pressing issues on the horizon as it relates to health disparities? Why is it important to have HBCUs be an ongoing part of the solutions to health disparities? What specific roles do you think they might play over the next 5 years?

Dr. Allan Noonan: I see many answers to this question. I think that cardiovascular disease, the health consequences of violence, and the inadequate handling of mental health issues come to mind immediately. All three of these issues have major impact on people of color, are inadequately handled by health systems, and do not obtain the appropriate attention when it comes to prevention.

Members of the community must also realize that all of the prevention is not the responsibility of the medical system. Educational and social systems must consider these issues as they address their priorities. I must also include the whole issue of infant mortality. African-American babies are still twice as likely to die as infants than the average infant. 

African-Americans are 13 percent of the US population, they are nowhere near 13 percent of any major health profession – 5 percent of MDs, 3 percent of dentists, 10 percent of nurses. HBCUs play a major role in the education of African-Americans but are not participants in the nation’s recent surge in the training of health professionals. It is documented that African-American students at HBCUs have better academic performance, greater social involvement, and higher occupational aspirations than those at Traditionally White Institutions. HBCUs can enhance significantly the suitability of the health workforce in serving those in most need of preventive and treatment the communities where health disparities are greatest. They play an essential role in augmenting the pipeline of providers dedicated to eliminating disparities.


CB: (Dr. Cythnia Burwell): Sisters Overton and Bridgers, how did you become involved in getting the message out about health disparities? And what comes to mind when you think of health disparities?

Claudette Overton: Several members of the Spiritual Support for Cancer Ministry at Second Calvary Baptist Church attended the Dec. 9th Health Disparities Listening Tour.  We were very much interested in this community forum because for over 10 years, we have worked in the church and community to provide education and awareness, access to free mammograms and other supports that were available through agencies like the American Cancer Society and Sentara Hospital.  

This was a major gathering that promoted the exchange of novel ideas and information from a wide range of professionals from   academia, government, medical profession, social services, communities and churches.

When I think of health disparities, I am concerned that where a person lives, or how much money he makes, or the fact that he is a minority, or does not have health insurance, that he would be impacted more by the prevalence, morbidity, and mortality of certain diseases.  This is a subject we all need to be familiar with.  January 15th was Dr. King’s birthday. We must not forget, his entire movement was devoted to equality.   

Cora Bridgers: I attended the forum at Norfolk State because I wanted, and knew I needed more information in order to help the community. Simply put, a lot of people really don’t know or understand what health disparities are about, or what social determinants mean and how they are related to diseases such as heart attack, stroke or diabetes, kidney diseases, poor circulation, etc.

Through my involvement with cancer education, and Fredda Bryan with the American Cancer Society, I was able to learn some things about disparities, but there is so much more to learn. I feel responsible as a servant in my church and the community to help disseminate more knowledge.


Our Power Up Lunch is sponsored by and supported by a generous donation from Sentara Healthcare. We are most appreciative of their kindness and support.
Reserve your seat at (757) 627-7772, or at (757) 278-2589. Free and Open to Public.

By Terrance Afer-Anderson

A staggering number of Virginia children are living without a health safety net. They are uninsured. According to a recent Urban Institute report, 5.8 percent of all Virginia children, under age 19, did not have health insurance in 2014. That’s an alarming 115,000 children.

But what is it like to be a child with no healthcare coverage? What options are there available? Denise Parker knows those answers all too well.

Parker has extensive experience helping Virginia families secure coverage for their children. Yet, she has also had to find help to get her own children insured. It was that unnerving experience that launched her on a mission that she pursues with unceasing passion.

Parker is a new health educator with the Norfolk Department of Public Health, tasked with identifying and assisting eligible families to enroll in Virginia’s Family Access to Medical Insurance Security programs (FAMIS). She comes to the health department with a background not alone steep in assisting residents with programs like FAMIS, but also with first-hand experience.

Parker has three sons, ages 37, 17 and 14. She shares her modest home with her two youngest. She told me recently, “Both of my boys are athletes. They have been hurt several times.

My oldest son,” she added, “had a concussion. He stayed in the hospital for 2 days and had an MRI to see if there was any swelling.” She then beamed broadly, as she recalled how FAMIS had come to her aid.

“It cost me just $5,” she said. “Suppose I didn’t have insurance. I wouldn’t have been able to pay my bills.” She added that, while he was recovering, her son was also in a home rehab program for six weeks. The cost was only $5 per visit.

Parker is genuinely appreciative of the role that programs like FAMIS have played in her sons’ lives. “They have been covered since birth, beginning at 6 weeks of age,” she said. It is that direct experience, accessing Virginia’s insurance assistance programs, that she brings to bear in educating low-income families on the resources that may be also available to them. She noted that when she first meets a client, “They see you sitting there and they don’t know what you are yourself going through. But I can relate to them.”

Relate to them indeed. She has helped thousands of children get insurance coverage. For her efforts, in 2011, she was honored by the Virginia Health Care Foundation with the prestigious Unsung Hero Child Health Champion award. It should be noted that, during the last fiscal year alone, Parker enrolled 683 children and 215 pregnant women in FAMIS programs. Parker comes to the Norfolk Health Department with considerable experience helping uninsured and disadvantaged children. She has worked with Head Start, The Planning Council and the Child Health Investment Partnership (CHIP) of South Hampton Roads. She said “I like it.” Then she paused, realizing that was not an adequate portrayal of the fondness she has for her work. She added, with infectious enthusiasm I might add, “I LOVE IT!”

Parker especially appreciates the FAMIS programs and what they do to help children get important health insurance coverage. “I carry FAMIS materials around in the trunk of my car,” she said. “It’s loaded! If somebody needs help, I got to go” to be there for them.

The FAMIS programs provide health coverage for children up to age 19. There are income requirements that must be met, but the list of covered services is extensive and includes: doctor visits, dental care, routine well-baby and well-child checkups, emergency care, hospital visits, vaccinations, lab tests and x-rays, prescription medicine, vision care, mental health care, etc.

For a child to be eligible for the FAMIS programs, they must 1) live in Virginia, 2) be under age 19, 3) be a U.S. citizen or a qualified alien, and 4) live in a family whose total household income meets FAMIS program guidelines, such as $49,815 for a family of 4. The co-pay for covered services can range from $2 to $5. Some covered services are free. Parker also noted that there is a FAMIS MOMS program for pregnant women. She has extensive experience with all of these and shared a story that demonstrates how effective she is at what she does.

A young girl attending a Norfolk elementary school was a severe asthmatic and was receiving FAMIS Plus, yet her mother had failed to renew that Medicaid coverage. Parker received an urgent call from a school nurse. The student no longer had an inhaler and was having a health crisis. Previously, an ambulance had been called to the school on five separate occasions. Parker created a team that included herself, the school nurse, and the young girl’s doctor and, together, they petitioned Medicaid to expedite renewal of the critical coverage the little girl so desperately needed. Parker stated her determination and resolve with great humility. “It’s more than a job for me,” she said. “It’s about having the compassion and the resources to help people.”

And why does she see FAMIS as so important? “When you have lived the life as I have, you appreciate that FAMIS allows you to have a family, to work, and be able to afford health insurance for your children.” She then paused for a moment and added a simple statement that offers profound commentary on why FAMIS even came into existence. She said, “I feel that a child that is covered with health insurance is a more healthy child.”

If you have questions or would like more information on the FAMIS programs and the eligibility requirements or other health insurance programs, call Denise Parker, Norfolk Department of Public Health at 757-285-7841 or Cover Virginia at (855) 242-8282.

By Terrance Afer-Anderson

Here’s an alarming statistic that should get your attention. Imagine 3 jumbo jet airliners, each carrying 438 passengers, crashing every day for a year, with no survivors. That’s how many people die from smoking-related illnesses each year, in the U.S. alone.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the CDC, reports that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable American disease and death, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year. That’s 1,300 deaths every day and 1 of every 5 annually. But the key word here is preventable.

Despite those stunning statistics, people still smoke and the impact among African-Americans is particularly devastating. The CDC reports that 29.8 percent of African-American adults smoke and that tobacco use is a major contributor to the 3 leading causes of death among Black Americans: heart disease, cancer and stroke. Further, of the 23,000 new cases of lung cancer expected in 2011, 70 percent or 16,000 new cases were expected to occur in African-Americans. Additionally, the lung cancer death rate among Black men was 23 percent higher than that of white men. It is also worth noting that an estimated 1.6 million African-Americans under age 18 will become regular smokers, including 500,000 who will eventually die from smoking.

And what of Virginia? The CDC notes that, in assessing the prevalence of smoking across the U.S., Virginia ranked 23rd among the states. Some 160,000 African-Americans in Virginia smoke. It is also worth noting that, while only 12.9 percent of Virginians with incomes of $50,000 or more smoke, 38.9 percent of residents with incomes less than $15,000 are current smokers. Also noteworthy is that the state’s non-Hispanic Blacks die from smoking-related heart disease, lung and bronchus cancer at greater rates than non-Hispanic whites.

Virginia’s smoking statistics are above national averages, but reflect the incidence of smoking across the country, to include exposure to secondhand smoke. Those rates too are considerably higher amongst African-Americans. Black American children and adults are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than any other racial or ethnic group.

To illustrate, the CDC reports that, between 2011 and 2012, 67.9 percent of African-American children, aged 3 to 11, and 54.6 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years, were exposed to secondhand smoke, while 39.6 percent of Black adults aged 20 years and older were exposed. It should also be noted that there are some 7,000 chemicals found in cigarette smoke, most of them potentially hazardous and about 70 can cause cancer.

But the good news is that most African-American adult cigarette smokers, some 70 percent, genuinely want to quit. Many have tried. In fact, among current African-American daily smokers, aged 18 years and older, 74.1 percent report that they want to quit and 49.3 percent report having attempted to do so.

The benefits of quitting cannot be ignored. Here is a smoking cessation timeline that smokers, who want to quit, should find encouraging and a compelling incentive. After 20 minutes of stopping, the heart rate drops. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to within normal limits. After 2 weeks to 3 months, circulation improves and lung function increases. After 1 to 9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. After 1 year, excess risk of having coronary heart disease is cut in half. After 5 years, the stroke risk is reduced to that of a former smoker who stopped for 5 to 15 years. After 10 years, the lung cancer death rate is half that of a continuing smoker. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder and pancreas decreases. After 15 years, the risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker.

If you are a smoker who is motivated to stop, Boy … does the Virginia Department of Health have an opportunity for you! It is called Quit Now Virginia.

Quit Now Virginia is a smoking cessation and counseling program that has helped thousands of people throughout the state successfully stop smoking. And you don’t have to attend any meetings! All you need is your phone. If you also have access to a personal computer, it will enhance your experience.

Enrollment in Quit Now Virginia is free. They will help you create an easy-to-follow quit plan, help you decide what type, dose and duration of quitting aid works best for you and provide guidance on how to use it. You’ll be also assigned a personal Quit Coach® whom you can access with a simple phone call, whenever you need it. You’ll also have access to Web Coach® allowing you to not alone connect with an online community of more than 25,000 other active members, but also track your progress and watch insightful, helpful videos.

Additionally, if you have a cellphone, you can also participate in Text2Quit, a text message feature that allows you to connect with your Quit Coach®, interact with Web Coach®, provide guidance on using medications correctly, manage urges, and avoid relapses. You’ll also receive a free easy-to-use Quit Guide®, a workbook that will help you stick with your Quitting Plan.

If you smoke and want to avoid becoming an alarming statistic, check out Quit Now Virginia.

Call the Norfolk Department of Public Health at 757 683-8836 or call Quit Now Virginia at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). You can also visit them online at You can do it!

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