‘The statistics are unacceptable’: Philly panel explores improving health for black community

The town hall organized by the Urban Affairs Coalition explored how the pandemic has revealed the urgency of addressing health disparities and what makes for a healthy community.

“We are very pleased to be joined today by several highly accomplished public health leaders to discuss the work being done in the region to address COVID-19 and other public health issues like HIV, the crisis opioids (and) gun violence issues that we face — all of which are important to our communities,” said Robert W. Bogle, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Tribune, who moderated Wednesday’s panel discussion. .

Steve Fera, senior vice president of public affairs at Independence Blue Cross, shared sobering statistics on the health outcomes of African Americans in Philadelphia as the backdrop for the discussion. He noted that during the pandemic, life expectancy for African Americans has dropped by three years in black neighborhoods and they are three times more likely to have conditions that put pregnancies at risk.

Will Cited a Penn Medicine 2021 study which found that opioid overdose deaths increased by more than 50% among black residents during the pandemic, while the rate among whites dropped by 31%.

“The statistics are unacceptable,” Fera said. “We need to change things and that’s why this forum…is an important part, but it doesn’t happen alone. We do this through partnerships.

The event comes as Independence joined other major healthcare organizations in announcing Accelerate Health Equity, a multi-year collaboration that brings together Philadelphia-area organizations to address systemic racism and barriers to health care. health.

During the roundtable, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole emphasized the importance of using a data-driven approach to thoroughly examine the factors behind poor health outcomes. health.

“When we think of common causes of death in Philadelphia, we think of heart disease, cancer (and) gun violence deaths,” she said.

“We understand the immediate behaviors that lead people to these things – you know the smoking rates, poor diet and lack of physical activity (and) involvement in violence.”

“But it becomes very easy for us to say that these are individual behavioral choices, but when we look at neighborhoods and we see different choices depending on where people live or the color of their skin, we have to look more deeply,” Bettigole said. “We need to look at where the structures and systems in our society are that push people into certain behaviors over others.”

Dr. Ruth M. Abaya, an emergency physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, spoke about addressing gun violence as a public health issue.

She is also a program manager for the Injury Prevention Program at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Abaya said that under Bettigole’s leadership, they were trying to use a data-driven approach to identify key drivers of violence.

“It’s not just the proximal drivers – having access to a gun for example – but it goes further upstream to think about what’s been happening in communities, what’s been happening in communities for generations, it could put us in a position now where we see violence clustering specifically in black and brown communities in the city of Philadelphia,” Abaya said.

Dr Ala Stanford, founder and CEO of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, said data collection and community work should be done simultaneously.

“I think among the things that I identified as being on both sides was that there was a lag between when the data got to the people who could create the intervention and the resources and the money to actually perform,” Stanford said.

“I’ve found that the way change is sustainable is that it comes from the top down. Management needs to decide where we are going to focus and where the resources are.

“So with the pandemic, when you recognize that positive rates were highest in certain postcodes but testing was lowest in those postcodes, that’s where the resources needed to go,” he said. she continued.

When the consortium was hosting a vaccination event at a school that had lost a student to gun violence, they realized there was an immediate need for trauma counseling.

“So the takeaway is that it’s top-down in that we have acute teams to deal with acute issues, rather than being held back at all by all the data coming in.”

Stanford and the consortium received UAC’s Living Legacy Award at the event. The award is inspired by U.S. Representative Dwight Evans and is given to a visionary community leader. The consortium has tested more than 30,000 patients and vaccinated more than 55,000 Philadelphians.

Dr. Sandra E. Brooks, executive vice president, community health equity lead, Jefferson Health, spoke about moving beyond concepts of race and ethnicity to address the causes of health disparities. health.

“There are a variety of things that we recognize now that we need to go beyond just race and ethnicity to understand what the real drivers are,” she said. “Yes, we know racism still exists and we know there are structural barriers, but we also need to address what decades of redlining have done to this city – how segregated this city still is.”

“I think what the pandemic has compelled us to do is that every entity that is in a position to influence either their local organizational policy or their policy outside of their neighborhood, really critically examine those policies to see how these policies are disproportionately disadvantageous. a population,” Brooks said.

Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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