Editorial: Assessment shines light on health issues

The community should support policies that aim to improve quality of life for all residents.

The 2017 Douglas County Community Health Assessment shines a spotlight for community leaders on Lawrence and Douglas County’s most glaring problems.

At the top of the list are poverty and its impact on life expectancy. In relatively affluent southwestern Douglas County, the average life expectancy is 83.9 years. By comparison, the life expectancy in the region adjacent to and north of the Kansas River as well as east of the University of Kansas campus is just 75.9 years.

Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said the differences in life expectancies across the community are connected to residents’ ability to access health care. “There are some things, like poverty, that is a root cause of a lot of things in life,” he said. “So if we could wave our magic wand and solve any one problem, which would that be — what would create the greatest good? I think the poverty and good-paying jobs.”

Poverty and good-paying jobs was one issue among the top nine identified in community surveys that were used to develop the Health Assessment. The others included access to health services; access to affordable housing; alcohol, tobacco and drugs; child abuse and neglect; discrimination; healthy food access and food insecurity; mental health; and physical activity.

The health department will try to shine a light on the identified issues and suggest evidence-based solutions. The Health Plan Steering Committee will work to develop a strategic plan for the next five years with a goal of submitting it for approval by local governments in January.

Partridge said the community ultimately will dictate the plan’s success.

“We are not powerless,” he said. “In fact, we have a lot of power to change and make this a better place and to make those (life expectancy) maps look different in the future. So it’s really just a matter of what we choose to do moving forward.”

The Community Health Assessment makes clear the issues affecting quality of life in Lawrence and Douglas County. It’s up to the residents throughout the county to understand the issues and support the implementation of policies that provide solutions to improving the quality of life for all residents.