STATEMENT FROM DWIGHT TILLERY, CENTER FOR CLOSING THE HEALTH GAP May 19, 2017

October 09, 2017

 

The City of Cincinnati has released the findings from its compliance audit of the Center for Closing the Health Gap. Despite the unfair and unbalanced media reporting by the Cincinnati Enquirer and WCPO, the findings confirm what the Health Gap has contended all along: that while improvements may be required in the City’s internal administration of contracts with human service agencies, the Health Gap was in compliance with City processes that have been in place over the past five years.

Throughout the life of our contract with the City, the Health Gap has always abided by the City’s requirements and processes, and we will continue to do so. If more specific language and performance measures are requested as part of the City’s revamped internal review process, than we are more than pleased to comply.

My team and I have spent the past thirteen years dealing with the most difficult health issues affecting our most vulnerable populations and specifically the black community. By its nature, the issue of Health Disparities is among the most challenging we face as a society – not just for Cincinnati but for the entire nation – because of its complexity and because of the long list of social determinates that create it. Instead of simple band-aids that address only the symptoms, we’re doing the hard work of addressing the root causes. Like any worthy effort, that takes time and it takes people and it takes money.

Since our launch, several of Cincinnati’s major hospitals have funded the Health Gap and served on our board. They have contributed almost 18 million dollars because they believe in our work, and they continue to do so. They know firsthand the depth of our healthcare problem – they scrutinize our programs to justify the money they provide – and they continue to support us year in and year out. Like these trusted hospital partners, the City of Cincinnati has continued to understand the value of our work and support the decision to invest in it, year in and year out. Even in the midst of this audit, the City Manager has placed the Health Gap in the City’s 2018-19 budget at a level of $750,000. Like with previous taxpayer dollars, that investment in the Health Gap will yield an extraordinary return in the improved health and well-being of our urban residents.

Despite a legion of corporate, civic and government supporters and neighborhoods filled with people and families who have been positively impacted by our work, some local media outlets continue to focus on misleading language and facts that suggest wrongdoing. Yes, a significant portion of our budget goes to staff salaries. We are a service organization, after all. Yes, we pay contractors to assist us with fundamental marketing, promotion and infrastructure services. I can’t think of a single non-profit that doesn’t invest in those important things. Yes, we recognize a minor oversight on an invoiced program that amounted to less than one percent of our annual budget. We proactively worked to correct it.

It’s important to note the differences in media reporting of the Health Gap audit and the currently pending audit of another local non-profit. The Health Gap audit was called an “investigation” and it was repeatedly suggested that Health Gap spending was irresponsible if not illegal. When City Manager Black was asked for comment on the Health Gap audit findings, his remarks that the Health Gap was not at fault never found their way into the coverage. For the other non-profit, meanwhile, the reporting says it’s simply an “audit.” The organization’s spending on marketing, public relations and staff salaries was never questioned. Mr. Black’s positive sentiment about the organization’s “forthrightness” was front-and-center in the reporting. All of this despite the fact that its executive director was placed on administrative leave.

Why the ongoing, unnecessary, biased attacks on the Health Gap? Why are articles printed without an invitation to us for comment? Why are the thousands of people who directly benefit from our work never asked for their perspective? The reporters didn’t want those stories to interfere with the story they wanted to tell. But our impact stories are worth telling all the same. Here are a few:

The Health Gap’s Annual Health Expo has reached nearly 100,000 individuals since 2003. Nearly 30,000 health screenings have been conducted – 38% of which were for individuals who had not received a health check in past three years. More than 3,400 volunteers have supported this event and help to make it a success year after year. We have a stack of letters and emails that document the impact. People whose lives have been changed and saved because of the Expo and the chance it gave them to receive healthcare they couldn’t have received anywhere else in our community.

  •  There’s our Do Right! Campaign in Mt. Auburn, where we’re working directly with residents to help them change their lifestyles with a focus on physical activity and healthier eating. We’ve served almost 20,000 participants since 2008.

 

  • We’re working to address Food Deserts in Cincinnati’s most impacted neighborhoods. These areas where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain is an epidemic with no easy solutions. But take away what the Health Gap is doing through the Cincinnati Fresh Food Retail Financing Fund and the City of Cincinnati Food Access Task Force and there would be nothing for the thousands of residents in our urban core who struggle daily.

 

  • There’s our Hands Helping Hands program and our Community Health University to equip individuals with the tools to navigate and utilize the health care system efficiently.

 

I’m proud of the work we do every day, proud of the community leaders who continue to support and fund us, proud of the residents who use our programs to take back control of their health. There is no secret recipe to cure the root causes of ethnic health disparities and a system that’s been broken for decades. But the Health Gap is using every tool at our disposal. The impact is real and it’s all around us. And we’ll continue to work hard to make a difference no matter the obstacles.

 

Dwight Tillery

Center for Closing the Health Gap

 

 

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