Systemic issues highlighted in Lawrence community health assessment; health department seeks feedback

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Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health staff members want to hear from the community to help shape priorities of a new Community Health Plan.

The plan will incorporate findings from the 2023 Community Health Assessment. The CHA found that two of the top local issues affecting public health are not within the realm of subjects that people generally consider to be health-related: jobs, living wages and poverty; and the criminal justice system, law enforcement and incarceration. A third top category is access to health services — insurance, preventable hospitalizations and preventive care.

Those three issues were prioritized based on four criteria: evidence of their significant scope, scale and severity; evidence of disparity or inequity; evidence of community priority; and because they are structural or systems issues that may also be root causes addressing multiple issues, according to the assessment.

Additional key issues that met three of those criteria are safe and affordable housing, cost-burdened renters and houselessness; behavioral health — mental health/substance abuse/deaths due to despair; and food security.

Dan Partridge, director of LDCPH, showed members of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Advisory Board last month that people living today in areas where Lawrence was historically segregated still have shorter life expectancies.

People living in Douglas County have a life expectancy of 80.7 years on average, according to Partridge’s presentation. But in rural Douglas County, life expectancy is 85 years; in eastern Lawrence, it’s 75.4 years. That’s a 9.6-year difference linked to geography.

“You have to look at the details and look at neighborhoods, and not just the city,” he said.

And although the average countywide life expectancy has increased by almost a full year over the past three years, the geographical gap has also widened by 1.6 years since the 2017 health assessment was released.

The health department’s website about the assessment breaks down each of 14 identified priority areas with more detail.

“Poverty is considered a social determinant of health, and a primary driver of health inequities,” according to the information under the jobs, living wages and poverty category. “Social factors, such as social economic status, employment, education, and social support, significantly impact health and health outcomes, above and beyond health behavior, health care, and the physical environment.”

In addition, housing instability, being cost-burdened by rent, overcrowding, moving frequently and experiencing homelessness all can negatively impact physical health, according to the website’s section on safe and affordable housing.

The assessment notes that people of color, people who have disabilities, people who are aging, and renters experience conditions that are inequitable.

LDCPH conducts assessments to use in shaping a new community health plan every five years as part of its accreditation. This is the department’s third iteration of the plan, Partridge told the advisory board. The plans are used to set priorities and inform policies to improve the community’s health and create opportunities for good health.

View the PDF of the full 144-page assessment at this link. See more about the previous community health plan, published in 2018, at this link.

Share your thoughts

“Building on the 2023 Community Health Assessment (CHA) and looking to develop a new Community Health Plan (CHP), you are invited to participate in an open discussion about our public health priorities in Douglas County,” according to the health department’s website. “There will be charts, tables, graphs, and snacks!!”

There are four “Chats with Data” currently scheduled:

• 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 18 at the Lawrence Public Library
• 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20 at the Eudora Community Center
• 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 24 at the Baldwin City Public Library
• 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 2 at Holcom Park Recreation Center

LDCPH also has an online survey available. Visit this link to provide your input on one or more of the topics.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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