Douglas County Commission to hear presentation on race- and income-based health disparities

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse at 1100 Massachusetts St., which houses the county government, is shown on Sept. 15, 2018.

Douglas County residents who earn less than $35,000 are 6.6 times more likely to be uninsured and to be diagnosed with asthma. That’s one finding listed in the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department’s 2018 Health Equity Report.

Those same residents are also more likely to not see a doctor because of cost and to have poor mental and physical health, the report said.

County commissioners will hear more about the report in a presentation from Dan Partridge, executive director of the health department, at their 4 p.m. Wednesday meeting.

“Health inequities are conditions that are produced by the social and economic factors at play in a society,” the report says. “They are avoidable; they are not fixed in an individual’s DNA or hardwired into a population. Therefore, vibrant data is critical to support identification of needs and addressing change with our vulnerable and/or marginalized populations through policies, systems, and the environment to build informed community-based decisions.”

Some other key items from the report’s executive summary include:

• The county’s black population is more likely than the white population to have an income lower than the county average, to struggle financially and to lose years of potential life to cardiovascular disease.

• County residents must earn $16.25 per hour, or $33,800 per year, to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Lawrence. Black populations have a median income of $31,042, and Asian populations have a median income of $28,313; therefore, those groups may face additional burdens in finding safe and affordable housing.

• The black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian and multiracial populations are uninsured at rates higher than the white population and the county average.

• The county’s black non-Hispanic and Native American populations have statistically significant lower than average life expectancy; more years of life lost due to cancer; and high rates of sexually transmitted infections.

“To positively impact the inequities and disparities that exist in Douglas County will require a deep understanding of the long-standing gaps that exist,” the report concludes. “It will require that individual organizations, including the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, use resources differently than in the past and look for unique solutions in new places with those most affected.”

• • •

In other business, commissioners will:

• Consider chipping in $15,150 to cover half the cost of hiring a consulting firm to assess operations and financial conditions of the Lawrence Community Shelter, address its budget shortfalls and develop a strategic plan for short- and long-term financial sustainability.

The city of Lawrence would pay the same amount for a total of $30,300. The city and county would expect the temporary consultants, Erika Dvorske and Chris Kohart of Lawrence-based SS&C Solutions Inc., to complete their work by May 15. That item was on the City Commission’s consent agenda for its Tuesday meeting, meaning it would be considered and approved along with several other items in one motion, unless a commissioner or member of the public asked to pull it for discussion.

Both the city manager and the interim county administrator have also approved full disbursement of funds included in their respective agencies’ fiscal year 2019 budgets “in an effort to provide immediate financial stabilization” in anticipation of predicted revenue shortfalls, according to a memo in the county’s agenda materials. Traditionally, the county would disburse half the funds in February and half in July, and the city would disburse half in April, half in October.

• Consider, at their 6 p.m. meeting time reserved for items of public interest, a request to amend Horizon 2020, the city and county’s comprehensive plan, to include 4.31 acres of land at the southwest corner of East 23rd Street and O’Connell Road and to rezone the space for community commercial development.

Commissioners will meet at 4 and 6 p.m. at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Complete agenda materials are available online at

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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