An Apple a Day for Everyone

By: Raegan Whiteside

Optimal health is not easy to maintain in our current culture. From fast food restaurants lining every street to harmful pollutants in the air to endless hours at the office leaving us immobile and exhausted, numerous factors contribute to the declining health of many Americans. And yet another reason for the rise of health issues is the lack of education for many individuals.

Tiffany Bell is current program director for Closing the Gap in Healthcare, coming on board in 2015 after the passing of her sister, Tonisha Bell, who started the organization with their father, Dr. Thaddeus J. Bell, an alum of MUSC. The Bells noticed how African American patients and other minority groups were consistently falling behind when it came to their health. Healthcare was always a family passion, but it swiftly expanded into their fervent mission. Today, 14 years after its inception, Closing the Gap handles topics such as proactivity about wellness, preventative care, tips on maintaining better general health and more. The goal is to “decrease health disparities in African Americans and underserved populations.”

“The nonprofit raises money for sponsorships, which are then given to African American and minority students studying at MUSC.”

Among Tiffany Bell’s endless stream of responsibilities for the organization are managing board members, running social media, grant writing — where the majority of funding comes from — and planning the Lowcountry Jazz Festival. And Closing the Gap isn’t even her day job! She also works for a large consulting firm where she serves as business project manager. Bell’s dedication is undoubtedly what allows Closing the Gap to be as successful as it is; she is the heart that keeps the organization and its mission “pumping” throughout South Carolina.

Bell also shared her dreams to “take Closing the Gap to the next level,” and pointed out that the issue of health disparity for minority groups is not confined to just Charleston or South Carolina — it’s a problem that can be seen across the country, and yet it is so often not addressed. She hopes to maintain an active role in making the issue more recognized and taking action against it. She expressed she “would love to have radio spots [and] television spots nationwide and expand [the organization] beyond South Carolina.”

Collaboration with other organizations and businesses is another area that Bell handles. She works closely with her father to foster relationships and secure grants. In the past, they have had collaborations with the City of Charleston, MUSC, Roper Hospital and The State of South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, among others. Recently, they have even developed a relationship with the popular diner restaurant Denny’s and are working on other strategic partnerships within the region. No matter who they partner with, however, the current goal of the organization is to provide for the community of South Carolina.

The Bell family has great reasons to be optimistic about the future. A study was recently conducted by MUSC on Closing the Gap and how they have impacted the community, and in all twelve focus groups, participants said they trusted Dr. Bell “because he is rooted in the Black community, has [their] best interests at heart and genuinely cares.” Furthermore, many of the participants in the research stated that “Closing the Gap broadcasts helped them to take action, to maintain or improve their own health.” Clearly, the organization is impacting lives in our state, and the impact they could have nationwide would be monumental.

Beyond minority patients being at a disadvantage because of health-related education, there is also a lack of minorities as healthcare providers. Closing the Gap is also on top of this issue and determined to make a difference. The nonprofit raises money for sponsorships, which are then given to African American and minority students studying at MUSC. The funding source for these sponsorships is the Lowcountry Jazz Festival, and, this past September, Closing the Gap hosted the 11th annual festival. The event was sold out every night, and they were able to provide scholarships to two medical students with the proceeds.

To find out more and donate to the cause, visit closingthegapinhealthcare.org.