Douglas County health leaders motivated to act for equity, they tell commissioners

photo by: Chris Conde

Douglas County Courthouse, 2018.

Sonia Jordan, of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said she has felt as though she’s had a lead weight hanging around her neck, and it’s pushing her to action.

“I’ve seen the faces of people of various populations around our county when they read this report and they realize that we are failing them,” she said, referring to the department’s 2018 Health Equity report.

“… You feel like you have to commit yourself to doing everything you can to try to end this disparity,” she continued. “So that being said, it’s too big of work for one person or one organization, so we all own health equity in Douglas County.”

Jordan, the department’s director of informatics, spoke to Douglas County commissioners about the report at their meeting Wednesday.

Among other things, the report revealed information that Commission Chair Michelle Derusseau called “shocking.” For instance, Douglas County residents who earn less than $35,000 are 6.6 times more likely to be uninsured and to be diagnosed with asthma. Also, despite the county’s relatively large population of college-educated residents overall, a breakdown of the numbers shows a significant disparity in attainment of college degrees between races.

Also, African-American infants are born at a low birth weight at twice the rate of the county’s average, the report found.

“Even with those very large confidence intervals, this is a staggering disparity that is existing in our county, and that can have negative long-term effects and outcomes on a person’s life,” Jordan said.

All of this contributes to disparities in life expectancy, she said.

“We believe that life expectancy should be a human right that our residents should expect of us, and that we should be trying to even the playing field on,” Jordan said, “and we see here that life expectancy is not the same across racial and ethnic groups in Douglas County.”

Jordan said she and her colleagues are willing to “go pretty much anywhere to talk to anyone about this,” because they believe so strongly in the importance of the message.

Dan Partridge, director of the health department, told the commission that the department has not yet spoken to the county’s four school boards in regards to the data, but he would like to do so, and he has spoken to the superintendents. He said the department also has plans to speak to various other groups in the coming weeks.

Commissioner Nancy Thellman asked how the department is engaging people to move toward solutions that aren’t just coming “from the top,” but from within the communities that are most affected. Partridge said that will be phase two — right now, the goal is to process and understand the information from the report.


• • •

In other business, commissioners:

• Approved paying $15,150 toward a contract with SS&C Solutions Inc. to provide temporary project management services to the Lawrence Community Shelter.

• Approved an amendment to the joint city of Lawrence-Douglas County comprehensive plan, Horizon 2020, 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.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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