When poet Hannah Drake drives through her Smoketown neighborhood and past the little white house where her father was born and raised, a discussion of health disparities feels real and personal.
His death, caused by congestive heart failure at age 64, fits a pattern for people in this historically black section of Louisville, Ky. They live, on average, nine years less than residents of many of the city’s other neighborhoods and have higher rates of drug and alcohol use, diabetes, heart disease, HIV-AIDS and death from homicide. Poverty, racism and unemployment weigh heavy, and transportation options and healthy foods are elusive because of institutional policies that have widened the gap between rich and poor, black and white.
Drake knew none of the bleak statistics about her neighborhood until she began working with Louisville-based artist innovation company IDEAS xLab after her father’s passing. “It all kind of made sense when I thought about my family,” she says. Four weeks after her father died, a stroke took his twin brother. Cancer later claimed two of her aunts. Until their deaths, all four of Drake’s family members had lived just a few blocks from a swath of buildings that house the highest concentration of hospitals and doctors’ offices in the state.
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.