January 18, 2019  

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Improved Health Policies Goal of Faculty Partnership with Vietnamese on Gulf Coast

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Natural or man-made disasters and economic downturn can be devastating. Individuals with cultural and language barriers may find it especially difficult to seek help.

Dr. Susan Mayfield-Johnson of The University of Southern Mississippi is partnering with Boat People SOS (BPSOS) to develop policies and support networks among the Vietnamese community along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Mayfield-Johnson received a $50,000 research award from the Gulf States Health Policy Center for her project, titled “Measuring Vulnerability and Developing Resiliency with the Vietnamese Gulf Coast.”

“Members of the Vietnamese population on the Gulf of Mexico coastal counties have been identified as vulnerable in regards to disaster preparedness, response, and recovery because of occupational emphases on the seafood and shrimping industries as well as literacy and acculturation issues,” said Mayfield-Johnson, assistant professor in the Southern Miss Department of Public Health.

Mayfield-Johnson is working with Daniel Le of BPSOS. “Because of their limited English proficiency, the Vietnamese community has been ill-equipped to respond and prepare for disasters, thus causing great harm to their health and well-being,” said Le.

Vulnerable communities are defined as low-income, racial and ethnic minority communities that suffer disproportionately from health disparities. Mayfield-Johnson stated many vulnerable communities exist on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but this project will focus on the Vietnamese community as they are often overlooked during disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts.

Photovoice will be used to measure the causes and consequences of vulnerability and resilience. “This technique allows individuals to express their community’s concerns and strengths through photography,” said Mayfield-Johnson. “These photos help prompt critical dialogue that can ultimately inform policy.”

The project will also evaluate a Community Health Advisor (CHA) program where an individual will be trained to help improve the health of the Vietnamese Gulf Coast community. CHAs will assess and develop appropriate social, economic, cultural and/or environmental policies.

“Partnering with The University of Southern Mississippi provides a platform for the community to express their needs and concerns to decision makers that could ultimately create policies addressing this underserved and marginalized community,” said Le.

“Our long term goal is ultimately focused on enhancing the health status among the Vietnamese community along the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” said Mayfield-Johnson.

For more about the Department of Public Health in Southern Miss College of Health, visit www.usm.edu/ph.