OXIHER: More access, less disparate healthcare

A lack of access to health care among Louisiana’s socially disadvantaged populations is one of several reasons our state ranked 50th – the nation’s least healthiest state - in America’s Health Rankings for 2023. The survey evaluated across social and economic factors, physical environment clinical care, behaviors and health outcomes.

Consistently low health indicators is why Ochsner Health (Ochsner) and fellow Louisiana Cancer Research Center partner Xavier University of Louisiana (Xavier), a historically Black university, established the Ochsner Xavier Institute for Health Equity and Research (OXIHER) in 2020, to develop a comprehensive strategy to remove the barriers that are standing in the way of a huge segment of Louisiana citizens.  

How?  “Equity is the lens through which we conduct our work to optimize opportunities for everyone to have the best health outcomes,” advises Dr. Eboni Price-Haywood, OXIHER medical director

Through OXIHER, Ochsner and Xavier are leveraging resources within each institution to launch initiatives employing outcomes research, population health, workforce development, community engagement and health advocacy to create solutions for the challenges the state faces today. Ochsner and Xavier, have collaborated for decades and a $2.4 million grant in 2020 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation kickstarted the Institute’s work.

A collaborative infrastructure is now in place to promote cross-institutional research and internships to support the next generation of students in healthcare programs.  For many minorities, seeing is believing and instills trust in the healthcare system, explains Dr. Price-Haywood, who also practices internal medicine at Ochsner Health in New Orleans.  She grew up in New Orleans and experienced the struggles of being the first physician and clinical researcher in her family. “When I look back at it,” she recalls, “It really didn't need to be that difficult. It was just more about getting exposure and knowing what you don't know. And the only way that you know that is to be exposed. And so my personal goal is to make sure that all those lessons that I learned make it easy for the next generation.”

So far, 18 recent college graduates have completed Ochsner’s research internship program with several interns staying on full-time.  At Xavier, faculty are engaging students in collaborative research and bringing along young minority researchers in the process. One student won a $2500 research poster award at an event sponsored by Eli Lilly.

“Xavier has a long history of combating health inequities by training a diverse biomedical workforce,” says Christopher Williams, PhD, OXIHER director and professor and chair of the division of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences at Xavier’s University College of Pharmacy.  “By collaborating within the context of OXIHER, we are accelerating our efforts in health disparities research as well as educational programing. Fundamentally, our primary goal is advancing the health of marginalized communities in Louisiana."

The Louisiana Cancer Research Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement is also taking a statewide approach to closing the health disparities gap from a community outreach perspective.  “Health disparities in Louisiana are longstanding, compounded by societal and historical experiences that have prevented Black people from achieving optimal health outcomes, especially those related to cancer and other chronic health illnesses," says Louisiana Cancer Research Center’s  Earl N. Benjamin-Robinson, DrHSc, CPH - Director of Community Outreach & Engagement. “Collaborative efforts by our LCRC partners are critical in reaching the four corners of our state to improve the health of underserved populations.”

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