BALTIMORE — Diabetes, heart disease and other ailments had been disproportionately cutting lives short in the disadvantaged neighborhoods of West Baltimore for decades when the coronavirus pandemic emerged and piled on.
A group of Episcopal Church members found that to be something of a last straw.
Buoyed by the recent social justice movement, three Black women from the church with backgrounds in health care are launching a program to train peer coaches who can guide, motivate and otherwise help the largely minority populations in some hard-hit neighborhoods figure out how to live healthier.
"We need people in the community who are not talking at us but talking with us." said Carol Scott, an emergency room physician and one of the co-directors of the program called Kindred Coaches. "We need people who can provide facts and information and can inspire."
She said people who are healthier have a better chance of weathering the coronavirus or avoiding it altogether — as well as other diseases that the Baltimore Health Department has said produces a 20-year gap in life expectancy between the city's most well-off and worse-off neighborhoods.
Scott said her faith led her to help organize the program that begins training coaches this week, though the coaches and those they coach do not have to be Episcopalian or any religion.
Peer coaching isn't a new idea, she and others in the program say. This program follows others in Baltimore that have had some success tackling the intractable health problems of violence and overdose deaths.
And public health officials have turned increasingly to the faith community, with deep connections in Baltimore neighborhoods, to get residents such things as regular blood pressure checks, fresh food or health insurance.
Scott said she saw her church, Memorial Episcopal Church in Bolton Hill, as a natural place to launch the program. The church brought in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and the Union of Black Episcopalians to broaden the impact.
In Maryland, Blacks make up a disproportionate 41% of the deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Baltimore City and Prince George's County, with large Black populations, have some of the state's highest rates of infection.