‘Empath and the Alzheimer’s Association are the best-kept secrets in the community,’ said Makeba Huntington-Symons, Alzheimer’s Association program manager.
By Karen Davis-Pritchett M.Ed., Empath Health Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
PINELLAS COUNTY — It makes perfect sense for Empath Health and the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to join forces for community outreach.
Alzheimer’s Association Program Manager Makeba Huntington-Symons recognizes that both organizations have a pressing need to spread the word about their services. For Empath, that means full life care for people with chronic, advanced and terminal illnesses. For the Alzheimer’s Association, prevention and treatment of brain disease are the top priorities.
Why not share the good news together?
“Empath and the Alzheimer’s Association are the best-kept secrets in the community,” Huntington-Symons said. “That makes us brothers in arms. The only way to convince people is through education.”
June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, the perfect time to raise awareness about dementia, which afflicts 55 million people worldwide and highlight local programs.
There are several facets to the partnership between Empath Health and the Alzheimer’s Association. Three Empath community partnership specialists currently serve as support group facilitators for the Alzheimer’s Association. The support groups connect people living with dementia with others to foster understanding and encourage participants to move beyond the diagnosis.
The Empath community partnership specialists completed online Alzheimer’s Association training before assuming their volunteer roles. The Alzheimer’s Association also provides training for Empath teams, equipping clinicians with interventions and interactions for patients with dementia and their caregivers.
The two organizations also make space for each other at special events. Empath is thrilled to host the Alzheimer’s Association’s Brain Bus, a recreational vehicle that travels the state, raising awareness about Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The Brain Bus, and its companion, the Brain Van, offer information about early detection, early diagnosis, brain health, and risk reduction.
Empath and the Alzheimer’s Association also prioritize advance care planning, encouraging people to prepare for serious illness before it occurs. Advance care planning involves making healthcare decisions and letting loved ones and healthcare providers know your preferences.
I am honored to serve on the Alzheimer’s Association IDEALL Advisory Council. The council ensures education and engagement with diverse communities, including the Black community, throughout the state of Florida.
Huntington-Symons is a member of Empath’s Care Council, which is dedicated to helping educate African-American residents and families about care and support services of Empath Health. This group of community leaders identifies needs within the local community, shares information about the Empath Health network, and assists us with community outreach.
While Huntington-Symons quickly points out that her job is to provide outreach to all people, she recognizes the unique challenges among African Americans.
“The African-American community is very important to me,” Huntington-Symons said. “African Americans are twice as likely to develop the disease as whites. We are more likely to be diagnosed late. I feel it’s my responsibility to educate my community. I feel like it’s my calling.”
The future is bright for the partnership. With Empath Health’s and Suncoast Hospice’s expansion into Hillsborough County, Huntington-Symons hopes to attract more Empath counselors to facilitate support groups there.
“I appreciate the partnership,” Huntington-Symons said. “I look forward to continuing it and expanding it.”
Learn more about Empath Health at EmpathHealth.org. Find out more about the Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association at Alz.org/FlGulfCoast.