Co-founders, Dr. Russell Davis and Ruth Perot, created Summit Health Institute for Research and Education, Inc. (SHIRE) in August 1997. From the outset they were committed to engage communities of color in health policy, programs and research – an awareness sharpened during the health reform debates in the 1990s.

SHIRE continues to advocate for disaggregated health data, and has also played a “cutting edge” role in promoting grassroots community, state, regional, as well as national and multicultural collaboration. These activities have gained the support of a number of agencies including The California Endowment, The Brookings Institution, Consumer Health Foundation, Kaiser Health Plans of the Mid-Atlantic States, and the Office of Minority Health (OMH), HHS.

In the years 2003 through 2005, SHIRE addressed health disparities and contributing factors in multiple ways, including convening a “blue-ribbon” panel that identified key health equity principles; presenting case studies of public and private stakeholder strategies to eliminate health disparities; analyzing the relationship between “informed consent”, trust and disparities; reporting on the challenges faced by African immigrants seeking to negotiate the health care system; and mounting health promotion/disease prevention education and advocacy efforts at the community level.

In early 2006, SHIRE became cognizant of the potential impact of health information technology (HIT) on underserved communities, particularly people of color, – and the organization responded. In June, SHIRE launched its campaign to address HIT, with the theme, “Leave No Community Behind.” Activities initiated in 2006 and 2007 include public testimony before the Office of the National Coordinator for HIT; sponsorship of Congressional briefings and public/private/community HIT roundtables; and partnership building with HIT-related organizations and corporations.

In late 2007, SHIRE joined forces with several partners to plan for a sustained focus on HIT adoption among the underserved, with emphasis on communities of color. This collaboration led first to a June 2008 conference which served as the incubator for the formation of the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT). SHIRE now serves this entity as its Program Management Office, coordinating the efforts of over 100 organizational representatives and individuals. (See NHIT website for details.

SHIRE also continued to work independently to maintain its own organizational focus on HIT. In 2008, SHIRE was retained to participate in two planning efforts in the state of Maryland to prepare for the development of a statewide health information exchange. Our focus – assessing readiness and proposing strategies to promote HIT adoption among safety net providers and consumers in communities of color. In the fall of 2009, The California Endowment engaged SHIRE to conduct a “teach-in” in Atlanta, Georgia to share information with stakeholders about funding and other opportunities made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Concurrently with HIT-related activities, since 2006 SHIRE has become a leader in the fight against obesity, particularly childhood obesity, and related chronic diseases. With the support of national and local foundations, corporations, federal and District of Columbia government agencies, SHIRE has engaged a wide range of stakeholders. Together these partners have developed and launched obesity prevention/health promotion initiatives throughout Washington, DC, with a focus on areas with the greatest need. 

 For example, SHIRE continues to lead and broaden a broad grassroots D.C. community-based collaborative focused on early childhood obesity, which now has 140 members. To date, SHIRE has also implemented several community-based pilot programs to promote wellness and prevent obesity. They include “Preventing Overweight and Obesity in Child Care Settings” (SCOOP); the Youth Health Passport program; Farmers’ Market support; and Teen and Adult Peer Educators Programs. OMH has supported SHIRE’s work to reverse child obesity trends since 2007, involving grassroots community engagement and partnership-building. SHIRE’s national reputation was enhanced in 2008 by the award of a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). In partnership with five other D.C. agencies, SHIRE is participating in RWJF’s Healthy Kids Healthy Communities nationwide initiative as one of nine lead sites. As 2009 came to a close, the District of Columbia Department of Health engaged SHIRE to design a blueprint for a city-wide public awareness program addressing obesity and chronic disease.

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