Healthy Tri-County Creates Change Through Conversation

It’s just after 9 am and the large conference room at Palmetto Goodwill is filled with people from all areas of industry – government, healthcare, nonprofit and more – who are settling down for the morning’s program. Healthy Tri-County’s fourth Conversation on Race & Health Equity is about to begin. 
Trident United Way Director of Health Kellye McKenzie gives the audience an overview of Healthy Tri-County and its work. Though many in the audience are familiar with, and even participating in, HTC’s work, there are always several newcomers and McKenzie is eager to bring them into the fold. She outlines Healthy Tri-County’s work in bringing together multiple entities to improve health outcomes and its development of a five-year roadmap in the form of the Tri-County Health Improvement Plan. 
After an introductory exercise, the program moves on to the two speakers. Today’s speakers are Women’s Rights Empowerment Network’s Brandi Ellison and MUSC’s Dr. Ebony Jade Hilton Buchholz, the hospital’s first black anesthesiologist. The topic for this Conversation is ‘The Pursuit of Equity in Women’s Health’ and both speakers share startling statistics about the state of women and maternal health in South Carolina. The discussion follows what is being done in terms of advocacy and how race affects health disparities, with a focus on women’s health. The presentations are followed by breakout exercises and a group conversation. 
While McKenzie and her team try to keep the size to roughly 55-60 individuals per session, more than 175 individuals from the community have attended at least one Conversation on Race & Health Equity since it started last year. Forty-one people have returned to participate in at least two.   
Healthy Tri-County created these Conversations on Race & Health Equity when it began prioritizing health topics for the Tri-County Health Improvement Plan. It became apparent that none of the health issues could be successfully addressed without also addressing the social determinants (access to transportation, education, financial stability, etc.) and the way race links to many of those inequities. 
“I’m proud that we’ve been bold in framing this conversation series through the lens of equity and race,” McKenzie said. “The reality is that disparities in a range of health issues from chronic and infectious diseases, cancer rates, maternal, infant and child health are significantly higher among African-Americans and other communities of color in our state.”
PASOs’ Kelssi Ambrosio was so moved by what she heard in Dr. Hilton Buchholz’s presentation that she made the decision to get serious about her plans about attending graduate school; she went out and purchased a GRE Study Guide later that day.
“We’re all aware of the problems that exist, but it’s the exposure that really changes things,” Ambrosio said. “Because I’m a privileged person, I have access to great healthcare, but the 
population I work with don't have that even though they are just as deserving. Things will continue to happen without appropriate change. I decided to go ahead and really get serious about pursuing a career in public health administration. 
The Conversations also equip participants with information and resources that they can share with personal and professional networks to further raise awareness and help address these issues in their communities. It also serves as an introduction to professionals who may have an opportunity to collaborate in ways outside of Healthy Tri-County to address health outcomes. 
Healthy Tri-County is planning its third Conversation on Race & Health Equity in November. If you would like to learn more about Healthy Tri-County, visit.