Opinion

Leveling playing field for health-care access

State Rep. MaryAnn Black: “This really is about all of us, and all of Durham coming together to make sure we have a healthy community.”
State Rep. MaryAnn Black: “This really is about all of us, and all of Durham coming together to make sure we have a healthy community.” Duke Health

Statistics that emerged at a healthcare discussion last week may not have been surprising to anyone who is aware of inequality in Durham, but they were striking nonetheless.

If you’re white in Durham County, you’ve got an edge on others in how long you’ll live. If you’re 30 years old and white, according to the N. C. Department of Health and Human Services, you can expect on average to live to 83. If you’re black, odds are you’ll not quite make it to 79.

Part of the explanation for that, perhaps the largest part, is that African-Americans are disproportionately represented among the more than one in four Durham residents who live in poverty. And poor or minority residents are more likely to be uninsured – and thus unlikely to receive care before illness or poor health conditions become severe, and perhaps even not then.

The 2016 State of the County Health report said that 42,662 Durham residents (15.1 percent) of the adult population were uninsured in 2015. But those numbers varied sharply by ethnicity. While only 6 percent of white residents were uninsured, 15 percent of black residents had no insurance. For Latino or Hispanic residents, nearly half were uninsured. And for “foreign born residents without citizenship,” the uninsured rate was a staggering 57 percent.

Against that backdrop, the discussion at the 15th annual Durham Health Summit and the commitment by community leaders and Duke Health are surely welcome. Noting the disproportionate number of minority residents who lack access to health care, “Ideally, we want to level the playing field,” said Durham County Department of Health Director Gayle Harris. Offered Ivan Parra, lead organizer with Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods: “It’s very important that we’re inclusive, that all communities are represented.”

It is, as speakers noted Friday, a heavy lift. Health disparities are rooted in the income disparities that make Durham, a city with among the highest median household incomes in the state, also a city with high levels of persistent and pernicious poverty. The “two Durhams” are reflected in health care as they are in so many other areas.

This really is about all of us, and all of Durham coming together to make sure we have a healthy community.

State Rep. MaryAnn Black

“Ultimately, addressing the social factors that affect health, including safe and affordable housing, access to education and employment and access to health foods will take a collective effort,” said Geoff Durham, president and CEO of the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

“This really is about all of us, and all of Durham coming together to make sure we have a healthy community,” State Rep. MaryAnn Black, a long-time community leader here, said.

Successfully undertaking that challenge not only will help those among us who need help the most, it will boost the overall quality of life in our county.

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