RICH-POOR HEALTH GAP SHOCKING
Saskatoon’s Poor vs. Affluent Health region vows to tackle problem
SUICIDE ATTEMPTS —16 TIMES HIGHER CHLAMYDIA —14.9 TIMES HIGHER DIABETES —12.9 TIMES HIGHER MENTAL DISORDERS —4.3 TIMES HIGHER
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.
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