MIAMI – The statistics rarely are kind when it comes to African-American health. African-American adults are twice as likely as whites to have a stroke.
African-American women are 10 percent less likely to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but they are 34 percent more likely to die from breast cancer, compared to white women.
These numbers from the Office of Minority Health of the Department of Health and Human Services are just part of the bad news that surrounds black health in America. And although more people are paying attention to the problem, the statistics are nothing new to the Nu Chapter of the Chi Eta Phi Sorority. It is part of the group’s mission of disease prevention and health promotion. “We are doing everything to target our community – young and old,” said Mary Taylor, secretary of the Nu Chapter.
The Nu chapter was organized in 1952 in Miami, 20 years after the national sorority of professional nurses and nursing students formed at the Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. National membership totals more than 8,000.
The local group, which started with 12 members, now has more than 100, of whom about 40 are active participants, said Lorraine Martin, the chapter president.
The sorority prides itself on its outreach programs to bring health awareness to the community, Martin said. Throughout the year, the group sponsors health activities ranging from Adopt-A-Floor hospital visits to health walks and health fairs where the nurses perform blood pressure and other medical screenings.
As nurses around the country celebrate National Nurses Week May 6-12, black nurses say it is increasingly important to keep them in the field. They, along with the Miami Chapter of the Black Nurses Association, play active roles in redirecting the health challenges that plague minority communities.
“We’re in the black community,” said Dorrett Lindsay, a Nu chapter member and a care consultant for Florida Blue in Miami. “It’s the only place where some can talk about their health issues.”
“Sometimes we are the first contact,” Taylor said of people with health issues who have not been to the doctor and show up at the fairs with elevated blood pressure.
Martin said the group likes to partner with community organizations to attract a bigger turnout. In the past, the Nu Chapter has held health fairs at the House of Bethlehem, A Place of Bread Ministries, on Northwest 79th Street in Miami.
In April, the group participated in the “One Community, One Cause,” health event at McTyre Park in Hallandale. Martin said at least 300 people attended, including scores of vendors representing various health agencies.
The nurses gathered again on April 27 for a health fair at Oasis Church of Pembroke Pines, where they conducted blood pressure screenings and education on hypertension and stroke.
Community health cannot be emphasized enough, the nurses say. And it is important, they added, that black nurses be in a position to help address the problems. Yet, black nurse recruitment remains a challenge, they say.
The number of licensed registered nurses in the United States rose by 5 percent between 2004 and 2008 to a new high of 3.1 million, according to the 2008 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses. But black nurses comprise less than 6 percent of the nursing population in the United States.
Blacks tend to take a longer route in becoming registered nurses, Taylor and Martin said. Many start as nurse’s aides,then go on to become licensed practical nurses (LPNs) before becoming registered nurses (RNs) or getting a bachelor’s or master’s degree in nursing.
“It’s not that they don’t want to become registered nurses in the beginning; they can’t afford it,” said Taylor, adding that the Nu Chapter offers an annual $1,000 scholarship for local nursing students.
Blacks become registered nurses at a later age than whites and Hispanics, according to the national survey. Whites get their licenses at about age 25, Hispanics at about age 28 and blacks at age 29.
The late entry of blacks into the nursing profession impacts the sorority’s membership, many of whom are retired. The youngest member is 32, Martin said. “Senior nurses are carrying the ball until younger ones come back,” Taylor said.