African-American Health Information & Resource Center: Empowering Savannah’s African-American community for 20 years

Nov 21, 2019

Twenty years ago the St. Joseph’s/Candler African-American Health Information & Resource Center stepped into the health vacuum that African Americans faced. Paul P. Hinchey

There was a disparity in access to health care and a lack of cultural health information. That’s why St. Joseph’s/Candler opened the African-American Health Information & Resource Center  in 1999, the first such center run by a private institution.

The concept behind St. Joseph’s/Candler’s African-American Health Information & Resource Center (AAHIRC) grew out of discussions conducted by visionary leaders at St. Joseph’s/Candler and Savannah State University. At the time U.S. Surgeon General David Stacher noted the AAHIRC and said such facilities would change the way healthcare is delivered in the future. 

Since then the AAHIRC has provided free health screenings and seminars to ensure that people are aware of how healthy they are and ways to improve their health and better manage diseases. Strategically located in an area of Savannah with more than 50 percent of the households below the poverty line, almost 200,000 people have used the AAHIRC in the last 20 years.  

It is a place where the technically disenfranchised could embrace the power of change, and change the power of their own lives. 

“It was our intention to instill that power so that people could harness those skills and access to health information to positively impact their own health and wellbeing,” said Paul P. Hinchey, President & CEO of St. Joseph’s/Candler. “The core intent of the African-American Health Information & Resource Center is to design programs using information technology and educational resources that lead to positive health outcomes for African Americans.”

Over time, this strategy has and will continue to positively impact the overall community wellness by improving the health profiles of Savannah’s minorities and poor, and thus reducing the gaps in health status and health outcomes between affected residents. 

The center’s focus has changed as the needs of the community changed. In the future it will continue to evolve to meet the community’s needs.

African Americans face much higher risk factors when it comes to serious health disease. Research indicates that African Americans have shorter life spans, more chronic health conditions and higher disease and illness rates than other cultural groups. 

St. Joseph’s/Candler creates a triad of health care: mind, body and spirit. The principle is that a person’s health cannot be viewed in a vacuum. External factors like education, employment, culture, financial status and health coverage can be obstacles to good health.

The AAHIRC examines the total person, a holistic view, to try to remove those external factors. 


What the African-American Health Information & Resource Center does 

  • Free health screenings such as blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Referrals to physicians 
  • Free health seminars that cover heart disease risks, stroke risks, nutrition, healthy eating, combating diabetes, obesity and dealing with stress
  • Free computer access and classes
  • Access to expert help on employment searches and business development
  • Ladies Living Smart Fitness Program that includes a comprehensive health screening 
  • Reading and math tutorials
  • Health literacy classes
  • Youth Health Programs (Summer camps, special events and book giveaways)

The numbers covering 20 years of service at the AAHIRC:

  • Total visitors: 186,225
  • Computer class attendees: 21,497
  • Seminar attendees: 12,088
  • Health Screening Participants: 16,786
  • Internet Surfing Center Visitors: 89,779
  • Ladies Living Smart Fitness Program attendees: 6,000
  • Youth health programs attendees: 7,090
  • Visitors for health fairs and community presentations: 23,818
  • Visitors taking computer classes: 11,522
  • Visitors getting health screenings: 9,036
  • Attendees for health fairs and expos: 53,810

Why is this important?

  • African-American adults are twice as likely as non-Hispanic white adults to have been diagnosed with diabetes.
  • In 2010, African-American men were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease, as compared to non-Hispanic white men.
  • African-American women are 1.6 times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to have high blood pressure.
  • In 2015, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be obese.
  • African-American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese.
  • In 2012, African-American men were 1.3 times and 1.7 times, respectively, more likely to have new cases of lung and prostate cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic white men.
  • African-American men are 2.3 times as likely to die from prostate cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic white men.
  • In 2012, African-American women just as likely to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, however, they were almost 40% more likely to die from breast cancer, as compared to non-Hispanic white women.
  • African-American men are twice as likely as their white counterparts to have a stroke. 
  • African-American males are 60% more likely to die from a stroke than their white adult counterparts.
  • In 2005, African Americans had 2.3 times the infant mortality rate of non-Hispanic whites.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


The AAHIRC is located at 1910 Abercorn St.



Two people were instrumental in getting AAHIRC started and two park benches were dedicated to them as a token of appreciation.

The inscriptions on those benches read: 


Dedicated in loving memory to
Sister Virginia Gillis, RSM
(October 24, 1933 – March 9, 2012)
whose inspirational wisdom and innovative vision as 
Vice President of Mission Integration at St. Joseph’s/Candler led to the conceptualization, development and ultimate establishment of the African-American Health Information & Resource Center. She possessed a selfless passion for helping those in need, and became a recipient of the love she inspired in others.


Dedicated in fond memory of 
Dr. Clifford Hardwick
(September 4, 1927 ~ November 18, 2018)
whose unquenchable thirst for knowledge led to his lifelong career as an educator.  He inspired generations of students towards the pursuit of betterment through the power of education. As an ambassador and steward of the African-American Health Information & Resource Center, Dr. Hardwick displayed an outstanding commitment and unparalleled service as the first co-chairman of the program. 



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