Health inequities plague Mahoning County, state official says

By William K. Alcorn


Health disparities and inequities run rampant in Mahoning County, an Ohio Department of Health official said.

“Access to things such as healthy food, adequate housing, transportation, education, jobs and health care, collectively called social determinants, are necessary to support optimal health and determine how well and how long we live,” said Johnnie “Chip” Allen, director of the Office of Health Equity at the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

The systematic and unjust distribution of social determinants among these groups is referred to as health inequities. As long as health inequities persist, marginalized groups will not have the ability to achieve their best possible health outcomes, according to the ODH website.

Allen was a keynote speaker at the Youngstown Office on Minority Health’s public health conference Thursday at Oakhill Renaissance Place. Numerous other local activities are planned during April, Minority Health Month.

Other speakers were Margaret Sanders of Northeast Ohio Medical University, Dr. Lashale Pugh of Youngstown State University and Dr. Darrel Lynn Grace, Youngstown primary-care physician.

The ability of population groups to have optimal health, such as those with access to social determinants, is referred to as health equity. Health inequity, Allen said, is when a group of people are unable to get the same health care. Allen offered several examples of disparities in Mahoning County that lead to health inequities.

The median income for health care-challenged poor areas of the county is $19,000 compared with $44,000 in areas that have more social determinants to health care, and $36,000 overall for the county.

Additionally, Allen said, the unemployment rate for people 16 and over is 13 percent in poorer areas, 7 percent in more affluent areas, and 8 percent overall for the county.

Home ownership, considered the pathway to generational wealth, is lower and home rental is higher in less affluent areas, he said.

Also, Allen said race can’t be dismissed when looking at income. Whites tend to make more money than blacks.

“Health inequities and disparities will continue unless we begin to think and act differently and acquire the courage to move beyond our current understanding and work together to address the problems,” Allen said.

“We must focus on increasing opportunities in low-resource neighborhoods. If we don’t, there will be more heart attacks and more dying babies,” he said, referring to heart disease, the overall top cause of death, and prematurity, the top killer of newborns and a major risk factor for other health problems.

When black women first immigrated to the United States, their birth outcomes were no worse than those of white women, but a generation later that was no longer true.

The root causes of health disparities are jobs, education and access to health care, and communities have to start thinking about policies that will improve those areas, Allen said.

“We have to develop a mindset that we are all one community ... all in this together. If we don’t, we are in the long haul committing economic suicide. We can’t continue to sustain the high cost of health care, part of which is the result of disparities,” he said.

“All of us benefit every day from public health, which exists to safeguard the health of the entire community and ensure that everybody in the community has access to the best health care possible. It sounds simple, but it isn’t,” he said.

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