Data can track how people these days are likely to die in King County. We now also know some of the leading causes of death are more prevalent in some parts of the region than others.
King County public health officials should be commended for mounting an ambitious effort to leverage data, dollars and services to produce healthier communities.
Earlier this month, the county convened more than 100 advocates and experts from the health, human service and community development sectors at a hotel in SeaTac. Their goal? To raise awareness of the challenge before them and to discuss a common path forward.
Just glance at the county maps below (from the presentation slides shown at the forum), and the health disparities between north and south King County become startlingly clear. (Note: The red areas signify where death rates are highest; blue signifies where the rates are lowest. Darker shades represent the best and worst outcomes.)
Seattle-King County Public Health Director David Fleming and King County Department of Community and Health Services Director Adrienne Quinn are leading the county’s efforts to do something about addressing these (often preventable) health disparities. Their message is common sense. Now is the time for advocates to break down silos and start forming new partnerships. Government can’t solve every problem or fund every solution, but it can collaborate with the private sector more effectively and direct investments into local communities that “have the most to gain.”
Closing the gaps means connecting public health with community development. It means taking steps to change environment and human behavior (see the chart below). It also underscores the need for affordable housing to be strategically located near jobs, health service providers, fresh food, transit, parks, libraries, schools and other amenities that are common characteristics of healthier, more affluent communities.
In public speeches like this one to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America in June, Fleming points out that Seattle is fortunate to be located in a global health hub with experts who’ve worked with under-served populations in developing countries. The Global to Local Initiative in Tukwila and SeaTac is an example of the county’s efforts to partner with international experts, Swedish Health Services, and HealthPoint to improve economic opportunities and basic health among the poor.
To be successful throughout King County, though, Fleming argues the region’s officials and advocates “must be willing to change our historical perspective on financing population-based public health and level the playing field by differentially investing in communities in proportion to their need.”
Can we pull that off? The county is certainly on the right path, but it needs more community leaders and the private sector to step up, recognize the disparities and mobilize for real, effective change.
ICYMI: The editorial board published this Nov. 1 editorial outlining Seattle’s veneer of affluence is offset by stark realities outlined in King County’s 2013 Equity and Social Justice Report. The findings point to chronic disparities:
- Median household income between the county’s 10 wealthiest ZIP codes and the 10 poorest ZIP codes differs by more than $100,000.
- Residents self-segregate. The 10 most racially diverse ZIP codes are about 70 percent minority and the 10 least-diverse are 90 percent white.
- Adults in Des Moines are seven to eight times more likely to lack health insurance than adults in Mercer Island or Sammamish.
- Life expectancy differs by as much as 10 years countywide. For instance, this gap is seen between Mercer Island (85.9 years) and South Auburn (76.8 years). That South Auburn life expectancy is lower than 72 countries and the average U.S. life expectancy rate of 78.6 years.
- Students in South King County have lower on-time graduation rates, especially among African-Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Pacific Islanders.