Hopkins health center would target neighbors

University council hopes institute also will be used for urban care research

July 17, 1999|By Michael Hill and Diana Sugg | Michael Hill and Diana Sugg,SUN STAFF

The Johns Hopkins University and Hospital are planning the Urban Health Institute, part of a new effort to combat the serious health problems in the community surrounding the East Baltimore health complex.

"Johns Hopkins is certainly not the only urban academic health center faced with this paradox of having a top-level hospital in the middle of serious social and economic problems," said Steven Knapp, provost of the university. "The idea of the institute is to make Hopkins a national leader in finding solutions to these problems."

The institute is one of the key recommendations of the 90-member Hopkins Council on Urban Health that included Hopkins and community representatives.

Dr. Martha Hill, a co-chairwoman of the committee and a Hopkins nursing professor, said the focus is on developing an operational and business plan for the institute, including identifying possible sources of money. A draft will be presented to deans at a retreat Sept. 1 and to the board of trustees in October.

Any initiative by Hopkins must confront the longtime distrust of local residents, who, as the report noted, often believe that the institution sees them as only "research subjects." Council members said including community groups, even churches and charities, on the committee helped dispel some of that suspicion.

"Hopkins brought little Health Care for the Homeless to the table," said Jeff Singer, that organization's president and chief executive, pleased that his group was part of the council.

"I don't think they've ever done that in the past."

The institute would have two functions, to coordinate health care efforts for East Baltimore and to be an academic home for studies of such problems.

"I think all of us on the council learned a great deal from these meetings," Knapp said, "particularly about the extent that substance abuse contributes to so many of these problems in ways a lot of the experts did not even realize."

At the final meeting to vote on the council's priorities, substance abuse was identified as the top issue. About 10,000 of the area's 100,000 residents need treatment for alcohol or drug abuse, according to the council's findings. But Hill said the council is not saying that necessarily means more Hopkins-sponsored treatment centers.

"We need to find a way to make these services more available, and when I say `we,' I mean all of us together," Hill said. "Hopkins internally has to get itself organized, so we can be a more effective and efficient partner."

It's unclear how much money will be involved overall or how big the institute might be, but Hill said it won't be a new division of the university that confers its own degrees.

"It's more of a place where people can come together from the different divisions which share a common interest and commitment," Hill said.

In addition to substance-abuse problems, pollution and poverty, Hopkins' neighborhood also has the city's highest age- and sex-adjusted rates of illness and death from heart disease and stroke, and disproportionately high rates of diabetes, cancer and childhood asthma. The report also noted that East Baltimore is ranked as one of the nation's 10 most violent communities.

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