Saskatoon StarPhoenix


Saskatoon’s Poor vs. Affluent Health region vows to tackle problem

- By Janet French


Anew study that’s the first of its kind in the country shows residents in Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourh­oods more often end up in hospital, at the doctor or on medication for serious health problems than the average city resident or those who live in the wealthier east side.

Now, 18 Canadian cities are set to launch their own similar studies based on Saskatoon Health Region research showing how broad the chasm between rich and poor has grown.

Data set to be published Friday in the Canadian Journal of Public Health shows those who live in Pleasant Hill, Riversdale, Westmount, Meadowgree­n, King George and the Confederat­ion Suburban Centre have dramatical­ly higher rates of hospitaliz­ations and sexually transmitte­d diseases compared to the city as a whole, and are even worse off compared to residents of Erindale, Arbor Creek, Briarwood, Lakeridge and College Park East.

Dr. Cory Neudorf, one of the study’s authors and the Saskatoon Health Region’s medical health officer, said the finding replicates what numerous studies have previously shown at an internatio­nal, national and provincial level — the poorer people are, the poorer their health.

What he didn’t expect was how wide the gap is between wealthy and needy neighbourh­oods.

Based on government data from 2001, nearly four times as many people from low-income neighbourh­oods wound up in hospital after attempting suicide compared to the rest of the city. The number of suicide attempts is also more than 15 times higher than the number in affluent neighbourh­oods.

Hospitaliz­ations for diabetes were three times higher in low-income neighbourh­oods than the rest of the city, and nearly 13 times higher than in the eastern suburbs.

“I went through what you usually go through in the cycle of hearing shocking news — denial,” Neudorf said.

He looked back at the data to see if there was a mistake.

“Once you confirm it, there’s the shock and disbelief and kind of a grieving response,” he said.

Hospitaliz­ations and doctor visits for injuries and poisonings, coronary heart disease, mental disorders and the prevalence of sexually transmitte­d infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and hepatitis C are so much higher in low-income neighbourh­oods that it reveals how far residents there are falling behind, Neudorf said.

While only 46 per cent of inner-city tots are up to date with their measles, mumps and rubella vaccinatio­ns, 95 per cent of kids in affluent areas are covered. Babies born in the lowerincom­e cluster of neighbourh­oods are more than five times likelier to die than an average city baby.

Although one west-side resident says the study makes for good political ammunition, she worries the data will further ghettoize core-area residents in the eyes of the rest of Saskatoon.

“One of my major concerns with the research is that it will further divide the city,” said Lisa Erickson, a member of the Westmount community associatio­n. “I have concerns about the east side-west side dichotomy.”

Although she appreciate­s input from experts, Erickson believes solutions to the community’s health disparitie­s have to come from community members.

“If we’re discoverin­g that there are problems, as this study tells us, do we need to be studied even further?” she said.

Pat Tymchatyn, president of the Meadowgree­n community associatio­n, questions how well the study represents the true situation in west-side neighbourh­oods. Most residents are renters and transient compared to the bulk of homeowners in the city’s east end, she said.

The study is not for “shock value,” Neudorf said. It gives the health region hard numbers to explain its anecdotal observatio­ns and a starting point from which it intends to make improvemen­ts and measure progress.

In advance of the study’s release, the health region had 150 meetings with community associatio­ns, school boards, healthcare workers and non-profit organizati­ons such as the United Way.

“Some of my friends who have been more involved as community activists take the position that this shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody, but it was shocking to me,” said Christine Smillie, executive director of the United Way of Saskatoon. “I had no idea the difference­s would be this dramatic.”

In response to the study, the United Way will announce a donation for inner-city after-school programs in Saskatoon at a news conference this morning. She hopes it prompts other organizati­ons and government agencies to open their purses.

The health region will also announce a re-allocation of $800,000 from other areas to pay for a more intensive immunizati­on program and better sexual health services in the inner city and to encourage more health profession­als to work in the core areas, where doctors are sparse.

Both public and Catholic school boards said they’ll offer their schools as community centres for providing some medical services and will bring wellness lessons into classrooms.

Health Minister Len Taylor said Wednesday although there will be no immediate funding announceme­nt for the health region in response to the study, the department will consider funding longterm strategies to help alleviate the health disparitie­s.

The study emphasizes the need for more initiative­s to improve housing conditions, provide universal child care and raise the standard of living, said Vanessa Charles, co-chair of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition.

“When you don’t have food in your belly, and you live housing that is less than adequate, obviously it’s going affect your health in a huge way.”

Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., MP Tony Martin, the federal NDP social policy critic, is dropping by today’s announceme­nt to gather ammunition for lobbying the federal government to open its coffers to fund more social programs.

Ottawa has the “lion’s share” of tax dollars and cash, he said, and government continuall­y hears reports of how it is “awash” in cash.

“If I was a poor person out there trying to grub for a meal for me and my kids, that would be really insulting,” Martin said.

The study is just a starting point for the health region. Coauthor and senior research epidemiolo­gist Mark Lemstra said the work has prompted 32 ongoing studies, such as how long low-income residents are staying in hospital compared to other Saskatonia­ns and surveying inner city kids about what kinds of programs they think would help. in to

 ?? —SP Photo by Greg Pender ?? Dr. Mark Lemstra (left) and Dr. Cory Neudorf with copies of a report on health disparity
by incomeWedn­esday prior to a news conference at Royal University Hospital
—SP Photo by Greg Pender Dr. Mark Lemstra (left) and Dr. Cory Neudorf with copies of a report on health disparity by incomeWedn­esday prior to a news conference at Royal University Hospital
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