Louisville’s civic leaders and health institutions recognize that in the face of generations-deep disparities, proximity to health care services is only part of the story. Good health for all citizens requires so much more—such as having a job, a safe place to live and walk, a place to buy healthy affordable food, a good education, clean air to breathe and a strong social network.
The city’s efforts to right historical wrongs and combat the conditions too familiar to Drake’s family, and so many others, led to Louisville’s recognition as an RWJF Culture of Health Prize winner. Among the things that distinguish Louisville’s expansive efforts is the way the city’s arts, business, health, education, law enforcement and social service sectors have come together. They’ve turned statistics and data into tools to rectify health inequity, respond to neighborhood violence and make the city’s impressive health resources available to everyone.
Louisville’s agenda for bringing the community together and dissolving disparities was born out of the city’s 2003 merger with surrounding Jefferson County—a voter-backed move meant to increase government efficiency and spur economic development. Civic leaders in the newly combined metro area knew they needed to boost development in the core urban communities, which lagged behind the suburbs in many measures of health and well-being. The year of the merger, 13 foundations planted the seeds of change by creating the Greater Louisville Project. This initiative is designed to improve education, jobs and quality of place.
“‘How do we create a competitive city for everyone?’ was at the heart of the creation of the Greater Louisville Project,” says Ben Reno-Weber, its director. “We took something everyone knew, for example, ‘kids are dropping out of school at unacceptable rates.’ And we asked, ‘How do we marry the intuition we have—our schools are unequal—to data in a way that makes people want to act?’”
That question led to the creation of a cross-sector partnership now known as 55,000 Degrees, an effort to boost the number of Louisville residents who have higher degrees. The use of data to tackle injustice also undergirds innovative programs across Louisville’s health, education and violence prevention sectors. KentuckyOne Health is using data to identify “familiar faces”—who often use emergency and hospital services because they can’t afford preventive care—and keep them from coming back. Today, when those patients are discharged, they are connected to in-home preventive health services, such as nutrition and exercise counseling.