Category Archives: Place Matters

May 5 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Alameda County, California

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Despite certain positive shifts in overall health outcomes for residents in Alameda County, Calif., significant inequities exist, particularly among African-Americans, Latinos and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, as well as low-income residents.

The Alameda County Place Matters team works throughout Alameda County, including the City of Oakland, the largest city in the county.

Team Objectives include:

  • Affordable housing
  • Quality education
  • Access to economic opportunities
  • Criminal justice reform including reducing the incidence of incarceration
  • Improvements to land use
  • Accessible, safe and affordable transportation

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson initiated the Alameda County Place Matters team. The team is currently housed within the Alameda County Public Health Department and supported by health department staff. The initiative has numerous community partners that include community-based organizations; city and county government agencies; and nonprofits.

Among the critical issues the Place Matters team is currently focused on are displacement, the built environment, and development and how those impact health, according to team communications lead Katherine Schaff.

The team is working with community partners and planners on a healthy development checklist that the city of Oakland can use to take health considerations into account during city permitting and decision making to try to ensure more transparency and accountability to residents in that process. She said the goal is to have city planners go through the checklist before projects are approved. The checklist, said Schaff, might have allowed for more time for community comment before plans were authorized for a new crematorium that is expected to add to pollution and exacerbate asthma cases.

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May 2 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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The Cuyahoga County, Ohio Place Matters team's focus is on ensuring health implications and equity considerations are at the forefront as policy makers and others make decisions that substantially impact the county’s residents and the neighborhoods in which they live.

Key Team Objectives:

  • A broader definition of health. Health is not simply the absence of disease—health begins where people live, work, learn, age and play. Health includes the social conditions one lives in, such as the jobs we do, the money we're paid, the schools we attend and the neighborhoods we live in, as well as our genes, our behaviors and our medical care.
  • Inform, influence and engage policy makers and community members to develop policies—using an overarching health equity lens—that have long-term impacts, create conditions for optimal health and reduce inequities.
  • Utilize "place-based" interventions to engage and empower residents in under-resourced communities to revitalize their communities.

East Cleveland is one of the most densely settled communities in Cuyahoga County. The city has a poverty rate of 32 percent, while its heart disease mortality rates (355/100,000) are higher than in the county (10 percent higher) and the nation (32 percent higher).

Team objectives include building effective partnerships; striving for equal opportunity for all; equity; recognition that neighborhood condition is the context in which health and wellbeing begins; health in all policies; mobilizing the community for action; and measuring indicators of social determinants of health.

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May 1 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Prince George’s County, Maryland

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The Prince George's County, Maryland Place Matters team is addressing food inequity by establishing a Food Policy Council and working with the county's recreation department to design and implement after-school healthy eating and active-living programs.

The project is beginning with the waterfront towns of Bladensburg, Colmar Manor, Cottage City and Edmonston, which have drafted a Community Action Plan with strategies on how to reduce chronic disease in Prince George's County. Partners on the Community Action Plan included Kaiser Permanente, the Consumer Health Foundation, United Way of the National Capital Area and the Meyer Foundation. Place Matters plans to replicate the initiative in other county municipalities.

Prince George's County is the most diverse in Maryland; 80 percent of the population is made up of minority groups. According to the 2010 Census, 8 percent of households live below the poverty line, but some of the towns have higher rates of poverty. Cottage City has a 21 percent poverty level, Bladensburg has a poverty level of 12 percent and Edmonston has a poverty rate of 9 percent.

Key Team Objectives:

  • Improve healthy food access and wellness for all through food policy and action.
  • Create reliable public transit, bike and pedestrian access to schools and recreational facilities.
  • Enhance community capacity to lead and support the Community Action Plan.

“What we decided to do was instead of trying to address the full county is to build a model which the county could replicate,” said team co-leader David Harrington. Harrington said the project, which started seven years ago, has “had some good success in helping to address some policy issues and system change issues.”

Place Matters is building a team around stakeholders called the Community Implementation Team and a countywide team called the Policy Development Team, which consists of the county agencies that influence policy and can provide support for help in doing the community work. They were engaged early in the conversation “so that they would consider administrative and other policies that will help them buttress the community work, and then the community work would help then influence their work, so this becomes a supportive concentric circle of activity that helps systems change, as well as change at the community level,” said Harrington.

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May 1 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in McKinley County, New Mexico

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file A sign warns of lingering radiation danger

In 1979 a dam broke at a uranium processing mill in McKinley County, New Mexico, releasing more than 1,100 tons of uranium mining waste and 100 million gallons of radioactive water—the second largest radioactive materials accident in the United States. Since then, say public health experts, minimal attention has been given to the health risks associated with the environmental contamination from the accident, or of the risks posed by plans for new mining opportunities in the region.

The McKinley County Place Matters team and its partners want to ensure that people are aware of the health risks associated with working in the mines, as well as secondary exposure through such things as a relative’s clothes or pollutants from the mines. The team also wants to address the health and social needs that resulted from the accident decades ago. In addition, people living in the community have noticed increased rates of cancers and other health problems, and state health assessment reports show that between 2008 and 2010, cancer was the leading cause of death in McKinley County.

file The McKinley County Place Matters Team

“To proceed with more mines without knowing the scope of impact to people’s health is dangerous,” said Jordon Johnson, the county’s Place Matters team leader.

The team’s vision statement is that “all people in McKinley County live in a safe, healthy, and prosperous environment that honors health-in-all policies and leaves a legacy of responsible leadership grounded in equity.” Its mission is to use a health equity lens to change systems that perpetuate environmental health disparities related to the impacts of multi-generational trauma and institutional racism by empowering participating communities within the county to impact equitable policy change.

Key Team Objectives:

  • Heal individual and community health and restore the environment with Traditional and Western values and medicine.
  • Use the Navajo Nation Fundamental Laws as the foundation to shift conversations around uranium mining and justice.
  • Conduct a health impact assessment on mining in the county to look at determinants of health including environmental pollution and contamination; displacement and relocation; community efficacy; and cultural relevance of the land to holistic health.
  • Support the community in building a multipurpose facility to serve as a space to heal, gather for meetings, and provide education.
  • To educate decision makers and general public about the poor health outcomes related to uranium mining.
  • To model a non-hierarchal structure, establishing shared leadership and creating a safe space for open and honest discussions to emerge about difficult subjects, particularly related to environmental justice and race relations. These conversations, along with a foundational understanding and commitment to moving the local community forward in a culturally relevant way, contribute to elevating the voices of community members participating in local decisions, said team leader Jordon Johnson.

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Apr 30 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in King County, Washington

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King County is the largest county in Washington State. Although it ranks among the 100 most affluent counties by income in the United States, it also has some of the poorest people on the country according to Ngozi Oleru, director of the King County Health Department Environmental Health Services Division and Place Matters team leader for the county. The focus area for the Place Matters team in the region is racism, with a goal to institutionalize equity and social justice within government agencies, branches and departments in the county.

Key Team Objectives:

  • Increase the capacity of King County departments to identify actions that will increase health and well-being and decrease inequities.
  • Give communities a role in the decision making within the county by enhancing existing efforts.
  • Work with local communities to partner with county staff and others to address their issues of concern

As work progressed, the initiative became law in 2010, as the Equity and Social Justice Ordinance. The law covers all of King County government and includes a set of determinants of equity that the team continues to work on to be sure they are improving the social determinants of health. Oleru said the ultimate goal is to eliminate any inequities. She noted that the Affordable Care Act provides a strong example of implementation.

“Through the work that we have been doing over the years, we had an idea of how many people did not have health coverage in King County and as it became time to begin enrolling people last year, we made a commitment as a county that we’re going to work on enrolling as many people as possible—if not everyone—who did not have health insurance coverage.”

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Apr 30 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Jefferson County, Alabama

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Place Matters is a national initiative of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies designed to build the capacity of local leaders around the country to identify and improve the social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health. “Addressing upstream causes of poor health, such as issues related to employment, education, poverty, and housing and environmental health risks through community action, policy development, and measuring the indicators associated with these determinants of health, are at the heart of our Place Matters work,” said the project’s program director, Autumn Saxton-Ross, PhD.

Nineteen Place Matters teams are currently working in 27 jurisdictions. This week NewPublicHealth will be highlighting six teams, chosen by Ross as representing both what needs to be fixed and what can be done.

file Jefferson County Place Matters team members take part in Food Day

Jefferson County, Alabama is the most populous county in the state. The Place Matters team, headquartered at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, found that the county leads the nation in chronic diseases and conditions linked to premature death, disability, decreased productivity and high health care costs. The leading causes of death in the county are heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and the county also exceeds state and national rates for obesity.

“At the heart of the Jefferson County Place Matters Team is a commitment to empowerment and civic engagement,” said team leader Monica Baskin, PhD, as associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Alabama/Birmingham Nutrition and Obesity Research Center. The team works to improve the social determinants of health by:

  • Informing and illuminating public policy debates via research, analysis and information dissemination
  • Building capacity of community leaders
  • Facilitating community action planning and implementation.

Baskin, who has led the team for two and half years, said it has so far focused on improving access to healthy, affordable foods; physical activity opportunities; and obesity-related issues. The team also released a health equity report about the county, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham campaign, a touchstone moment in the U.S. civil rights movement.

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Apr 28 2014
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Place Matters: Q&A with Brian Smedley, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

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Place Matters is a national initiative of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., whose mission it is to improve the lives of African Americans and other people of color through policy analysis and change. The Place Matters initiative was designed to build the capacity of local leaders around the country to identify and improve social, economic and environmental conditions that shape health. Nineteen teams are working in 27 jurisdictions.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with seven Place Matters teams about their ongoing efforts. We will be showcasing their work in a series that begins today with a conversation with Brian Smedley, PHD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute.

NPH: What are some initial steps that a community has to take when making changes in order to impact health?

Brian Smedley: Several things we believe are important, and these are principles that we employ in our Place Matters work. One is first and foremost to start with the very communities that are most affected by economic and political marginalization and that have suffered from disinvestment for years. These are often communities that have the leadership and sources of strength and resiliency to begin to tackle these problems. We believe that engaging with communities; identifying their key concerns; identifying the sources of strength and resiliency in the community; and finding out from the community what their vision is for a healthy and vibrant community are all important first steps for anyone engaged in this kind of work.

We also believe that there’s an important role for research to document the inequitable distribution of health risks and resources, and to show how that often correlates with patterns of residential segregation. We have worked with our Place Matters teams to produce what we call community health equity reports, where we document such issues as where people can buy healthy food; how close polluting industries are to neighborhoods and residential areas; sources of jobs; and neighborhoods that have high levels of poverty concentration. 

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