Friday, June 7, 2019 • 7:00 pm
Plenary Address: Understanding the Why: Engaging Amish and Plain Communities in Addressing Health Disparities
Melissa Thomas, PhD
A common approach to addressing health disparities in any community begins with first identifying health issues (the what) and moving to addressing the disparities noted (the how). Often, the move from “what” to “how” leaves out the critical question of why? Why do we see health disparities in certain groups? The answer to that question lies within the community itself. Over the past 20 years, the community-led group Project Hoffnung (“hope”) has identified the burden of breast cancer in Amish communities and developed a multi-state initiative aimed at empowering communities with the tools they need to take charge of their health. Through two decades of coalition building in rural communities, a model will be discussed that lays the groundwork for effective community engagement in Amish and Plain communities in addressing health disparities that puts the communities center stage.
Melissa Thomas is an assistant professor at Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has worked on addressing health disparities through community-engaged research and outreach models for over 20 years, with a specific emphasis in rural and Appalachia Ohio. As founding director of the nonprofit Center for Appalachia Research in Cancer Education (CARE), Thomas has served as principal investigator on a number of research studies aimed at reducing the burden of cancer through culturally competent health education programs. She holds an MS in administration from Central Michigan University and an MSPH and PhD in public health from Walden University.