Summit focuses on the social factors behind good and poor health

Written by admin   // June 14, 2012   // 0 Comments

by Patricia O’Flynn Pattillo–MCJ Publisher

Changing the Determinants of Health” was the topic for the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s Third Annual Infant Mortality Summit.

Held at the Italian Conference Center, Wednesday, June 6, 2012, the power packed summit was organized by the Department of Public Health, Bevan Baker, Commissioner, with policy oversight and leadership by Mayor Tom Barrett. Sponsored by Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Children’s Community Health Plan, United Healthcare Community Plan United Way with Rockwell Automation and Molina Healthcare, over 300 people gathered to examine the findings and new approaches to reducing Milwaukee’s Infant Mortality rates, particularly in the African American community.

Community based organizations, local and state policy makers, healthcare employers and providers, public health professionals, educators, researchers, students, advocates, and the business community comprised the attendees.

Commissioner Baker stated, “We must do better! The Health Department collects the data, and looking at information from 2009 through 2011, there were 10.2 deaths per thousand; however looking at the same data from the standpoint of ethnicity, that rate increases to 14.5 percent per thousand for Blacks.”

The summit brought together principal partners, a four-pronged partnership approach, to see the determinants that must be put into the equation. And only after these institutionalized determinants are factored in will there be an opportunity to change the numbers. “We expect to go upstream now, after the low-stream effects of the current statistics”, said Baker.

Dr. Antony B. Iton, MD, JD, MPH was the Keynote Speaker for the Luncheon Session. He is the Senior Vice President of Healthy Communities for the California Endowment, the state’s largest private health foundation with the goal of creating communities where children are healthy, safe and ready to learn.

In his former position as the Director and the Country Health Officer for the Alameda County Public Health Department, he oversaw the creation of many innovative public health practices designed to eliminate health disparities, by tackling the root causes of poor health that limit quality of life and lifespan in many low-income communities.

Dr. Iton’s statistics and findings were revealing. Graphically demonstrating the disparities in outcomes on a number of health issues, he stated “today one can take the date of birth, plus the zip code one lives in, and with a variant of a few percentage points predict one’s life span” . These findings, charted over a number of years, forces health professionals to look at the variants within all zip codes.

“Health outcomes are predictable because health is political”, Dr. Iton expounded. “Access to good healthcare, availability of resources such as groceries stores versus convenience stores, urgent care facilities, and educational preventive health resources all must be factored into a healthy community.”

“Milwaukee shows stark disparities. Already patterns can be spotted, yet they cannot be explained without digging deeply; these zip codes correlate to the lower socio-economic deaths.”

He continued stating that the Alameda County statistics showed African immigrants had better birth outcomes than Blacks, yet, overtime, their statistics began to look more like that of Blacks in the same zip codes. “America is not good for your health”, he said in jest, “diet and western lifestyles do not support improving Infant mortality figures unless we seek solutions.”

“We blame people for not making the right decisions yet we do not have the grocery stores, sidewalks, the environments that support good health. There is no evidence that talking till one is blue in the face is the way to change patterns, increase life expectancy, or decrease infant mortality rates.”

Acting as the Master of Ceremonies, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Sheri Johnson PhD, of the Center for the Advancement of Underserved Children at the Medical College of Wisconsin, guided introductions, break-outs and facilitated questions and answers after both Keynote addresses. She challenged attendees to be a part of the solution to problems not just the identifiers of the problems.

Attendees were reminded they can’t continue to invest in the suburbs, as most workers leave the neighborhoods at 4:30 daily. That money does not return to the communities they serve, where if re-circulated it would represent higher employment, more grocery stores, better schools and ultimately higher incomes per household.

Dr. Iton said, “The average outlay in services in low-income communities is about $ 6000 per household. We might have done better by just giving each household the money…perhaps it would reduce the number of failing schools, the high-levels of pollution that plagues those most at risk, and improved low incomes”

Dr. Magda Peck, ScD was the keynote for the afternoon session. A national public health leader dedicated to bridging academe and practice to improve the health and well-being of women and children, fathers and families, Dr. Peck is the founding Dean of the Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. An innovative strategist who led the University of Nebraska’s first College of Public Health, Dr. Peck is a dynamic speaker who brings new insight and a fresh mission to changing disparity statistics now clouding health in Milwaukee’s ethnic communities. On, Sunday, August 5, 2012, the Milwaukee Community Journal celebrates its 36th Anniversary at the Italian Community Center. Keynote speaker for the Sunday Jazz Brunch, 1 p.m. in the afternoon is Dr. Camara P. Jones, Epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A colleague of Dr. Anthony Iton and Commissioner Bevan Baker, Dr. Camara P. Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, has researched and analyzed health disparities and racism as a contributor to many of the statistics that affect ethnic communities.

She states, “Health equity is assurance of the conditions for optimal health for all people. Achieving health equity requires valuing all individuals and populations equally, recognizing and rectifying historical injustices and providing resources according to need. Health disparities will be eliminated when health equity is achieved.”

Among Dr. Jones’ summary points are: “Racism is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks, which is what we call “race,” which unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities, unfairly advantages other individuals and communities and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.”

With visual presentations, allegories and interactive audience activities, Dr. Jones expands the conclusions of the June 6th summit and affirms the impact of race in the present statistics. The necessity of change in order to build strong neighborhoods, communities and a healthy nation are apparent. She highlights the importance of self-determination (the power to decide, the power to act, and the control of resources) in achieving health equity.

Phone the MCJ office (414-265-5300 and visit the web-site: for more information about the “Putting Neighbor back into the Hood” Sunday afternoon Brunch..and reservations to hear Dr. Jones.

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