Social Justice was the focus of Health Equity Forum in Kent County
Quite often the focus of health care forums is about access or looking at just individual behavior as determinants of people’s poor health. At this forum, the focus was an investigation into the structural or systemic causes of poor health.
To facilitate this conversation, the Kent County Health Department invited two staff members of the Ingham County Health Department, Dr. Renee Canady and Doak Bloss. Canady and Bloss have been doing social justice focused health analysis at their health department and facilitating workshops across the state in recent years.
Differences in population health status and mortality rates that are systemic, patterned, unfair, unjust, and actionable, as opposed to random or caused by those who become ill.
The co-facilitators then looked at the various determinants of health inequality in the US and said that things like housing, transportation, education, job security, access to health foods and a living wage were some of the determinants.
The presenters said that this was a radical departure from the traditional view of public health, which is often limited to individual behavior. However, they emphasized that class, gender and racial privilege often prevent people from seeing the systemic causes of health inequity.
It was quite refreshing to hear presenters talk about class oppression and globalization as major factors in determining people’s health. The presenters even used the language of the Occupy movement and referred to the 1% versus the 99%.
After the main presenters discussed social justice and health inequity, a staff member of the Kent County Health Department then presented data on health disparities in Kent County.
The data presented information on how many adults and children were living in poverty in Kent County, with a breakdown along racial lines. There was also data on infant mortality rates, morbidity and geographical significance.
It was clear from the data presented that there were large pockets of poor neighborhoods that were disproportionately Black and Hispanic that had greater health inequality. Blacks and Hispanics children have a higher rate of living in poverty and infant mortality rates are higher than for White children. The data also showed that poor & minority communities are 6 times more likely to report 14 or more days a year of poor health, 3 times more likely to have diabetes and 8 times more likely to have heart disease.
The social justice and health inequity forum concluded with individual tables having discussion about the information presented and how those in the health care community need to respond to the systemic injustice that exists in Kent County. However, it was recognized that the organizations in the room needed to begin with the recognition of systemic and root causes of health disparities and then develop strategies to confront the systems that maintain these disparities.