believes that the healthcare industry places too much emphasis on treating disease and not enough emphasis on prevention. “It is a system where everybody gets paid only after somebody gets sick,” says Thomas. “Every other industrialized nation in the world has universal healthcare where the incentives are focused on prevention.”
To further break down the wall between blacks and the health community, Thomas started another initiative, Take a Health Professional to the People Day, which has, since 2003, sent medical professionals to barber and beauty shops to conduct prostate and other cancer screenings. Last year, the organization screened 556 people in 10 barber shops and hair salons in one day. “The work that we’re doing to prevent disease is not appropriately covered by insurance,” Thomas says.
Yet, Thomas understands that simply creating more screening sites and hospital facilities will not make the difference. In addition to more funding for screenings and research, Thomas says there is a need to increase training for medical professionals who will target diverse communities.
“[More than 90%] of health professionals are not black. A recent report from the Institute of Medicine says we need to diversify the work force, but it also recommends that there be more culturally competent providers,” Thomas says. “We have a project with the Mayo Clinic called Urban Immersion, a formal course at the Mayo Clinic that allows [medical professionals in training] to work in Pittsburgh barbershops and learn how to engage [the community] in ways that are culturally relevant.”
All of the programs at HBFP are funded by the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities, a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH) and charitable organizations. Unfortunately, the overall NIH budget has decreased over the past 10 years, Thomas says. “There is real concern that when things get cut back, black folks will suffer the most because those are the programs that are the most recent.”