By Dianne Anderson
Health checks usually fall last on the list for many Black patients who are trying to steer clear of doctors who are culturally ignorant, or just don’t care.
Either way, avoiding annual vital health checks, like diabetes, mammograms and prostate exams, colorectal tests, or other lifesaving blood work can be potentially dangerous.
In the months ahead, Second Baptist Church of Santa Ana is playing catch up to help fill the gaps in the system by prioritizing health fair outreach.
It also means addressing the other elephant in the room.
Kelita Gardner said well-documented cases show how doctors hold back information or from explaining healthy choices to Black patients, even if they’re in pain, or when they do not have insurance.
They rush through the process to make room for the next paying patient.
“They feel that this Black person isn’t smart enough to understand or they won’t follow up [recommended] treatment, so I won’t even tell them their options. I’ll tell someone else to keep the money rolling in my office,” said Gardner, executive director of the Health Equity for African Americans League Collective (HEAAL).
For that reason, local churches are calling the community back to the fold where they can access good trusted healthcare for free. The church’s HEAAL Collective has been working with the four other churches, as well as other organizations, small businesses, and nonprofits, all to increase access to health-related services.
On Saturday, June 25, New Hope Presbyterian Church, also supported by HEAAL, is hosting its health fair in partnership with Leadership Education to Advance Diversity African – Black and Caribbean (LEAD-ABC), a UCI School of Medicine mission-based program. That event includes Black doctors and Black nurses from UCI on site to provide free checkups and resources. The event will be held from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at 2580 W. Orange Ave, Anaheim.
On July 10, Second Baptist Church will host its event with Kaiser Permanente Health Fair offering a plethora of services including prostate education and access to testing and follow-up. That event runs from 9:00 a.m to 1:30 p.m. at Courtyard & Fellowship Hall located at 4300 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana.
“You can go to these free health fairs and get access to resources that you may not have been able to access during the pandemic. We’re creating a virtual network to let our people know what’s available, where they can go get it free,” she said.
Last year, Gardner said the church started its outreach with the OC Health Care Agency partnership to help bring vaccine clinics local. They pooled efforts with other Black churches, mostly because Blacks were hardly visible at any of the huge vaccination events around the county.
She said they also take the mental health component very seriously.
Pastor Ivan Pitts is healed and held the Palm Sunday service, but she said the attack on the pastor was hard for the community and congregation to come to terms with.
“When Pastor Pitts was attacked, we brought in counselors to help talk through their feelings. Although it didn’t happen on campus, it was devastating for all of us,” she said.
The next aspect of Second Baptist Church programs is to determine how the community can best access health services. Looking at the 2020 census, all surveys she’s seen lack adequate input from the Black community, which prevents understanding the extent of COVID impact.
If properly implemented, she feels the surveys can provide a good snapshot of the typical hurdles of race bias in healthcare, which she said is happening in Orange County.
She hopes the HEAAL collective and surveys can become a basis for policy change. She wants to see forums and town halls where the community can share their experiences with the medical system.
“It’s not just Detroit, Michigan or the boroughs of New York,” she said. “We’re planning to bring in people to record their lived experiences to lift that up to the healthcare industry and the powers that be to start making systematic changes.”
Surveys can determine the next steps, such as how to best leverage resources with the county or state to address the needs of the majority of the Black population.
She is confident they will be able to get a realistic survey as the church is a long trusted voice in the community.
“We’re very much interested in hearing from Black residents we don’t want to prescribe anything without hearing what they feel they think they need and we can collectively come together to focus on what really can help and then we’ll go for it,” she said.
Program support comes as part of the Orange County Health Care Agency’s “Equity in OC initiative is supporting underserved communities. Funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Equity grant, Orange County United Way is working on community engagement, and administering funding opportunities.
Several equity grants are still available from the Orange County Health Health Care Agency (HCA), and for grassroots smaller mom and pop nonprofits, the United Way of Orange County has several choices, such as the Power Building Fund with grants up to $50,000.
For more information about health services and grant deadlines, see