Over the past couple of months, I’ve taken a closer look at health-care access in Durham as a part of my work at DurhamCares, a local nonprofit. I’ve met with several nonprofit leaders, and they repeat a similar refrain: Durham may be the City of Medicine, but we’re not yet a city of health.
Quality clinical care in Durham has long been a priority, and we’re fortunate to have the world-renowned Duke University Health System in our backyard. Durham also boasts several clinics that serve low-income and indigent residents.
Through their work, Durham County meets, and in some cases, surpasses, health-care access needs of our low-income, uninsured or underinsured neighbors. Those benchmarks are summarized in the Partnership for a Healthy Durham’s 2014 Community Health Assessment, which provides an overview for dozens of health indicators.
But who, exactly, has the access?
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City of Medicine designation or not, we sometimes aren’t able to care for those most in need.
The assessment’s authors frequently compare Durham County health indicators to goals set forth by the state’s Healthy NC 2020 initiative. Each indicator tells a different story. For instance, Durham County has already met health care access goals for diabetes management among adults, with only 8 percent of the adult population reporting diabetes. Encouragingly, that’s more than half a percent below the statewide goal. On the surface level, Durham has hit a health-care access homerun and has met the statewide goal six years early.
However, a closer look at the data reveals significant disparities. Minority groups in Durham make up 52 percent of adults who report living with diabetes. That’s significantly above the Healthy NC 2020 goal. That made me wonder who has helped us surpass that goal six years ahead of schedule, and how we define our goals in the first place.
I recently spoke with Carlotta Jordan, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2009. As part of her treatment plan, she chose Lincoln Community Health Center to help her navigate care. Before connecting with the center, Jordan said her diagnosis was more difficult to understand, and she wasn’t sure what treatment plan would be best for her. She credits Lincoln with educating her about diabetes, in addition to helping her manage other health-related issues, and says thanks to Lincoln, she’s able to live a healthier life.
Jordan’s story is one of many positive stories about health-care access in Durham. The Partnership’s assessment gives us a bird’s eye view of the most pressing issues and strategies for success, but it also outlines who is benefitting from proper care and who is left on the sidelines.
Pick nearly any health-related topic summarized in the assessment, and you’ll find a detailed analysis of disparities and emerging issues. When it comes to access to dental care, 58 percent of children ages one to five enrolled in Medicaid have received dental care within the past year, which is great news. However, once again, the assessment also reveals close to 80 percent of Caucasians in Durham received dental care within the past year, compared to only 60 percent of all other races. There’s also a nearly 30 percent spread for dental care access when it compares families that make more or less than $50,000 a year.
In each case, while Durham County has met significant benchmarks outlined by the state, it’s worth taking a second look as to who has helped meet those standards. We tout ourselves as the City of Medicine, but who has access to care, and who is benefitting from it?
Thankfully, there’s a collaborative of nonprofits working to improve health care access in Durham. They’re working together to teach our neighbors about resources, and they’re relying on you to help them spread the word.
Do you know a nurse, doctor, or dentist? They might enjoy volunteering with the Samaritan Health Center, a clinic that serves medically vulnerable community members. Donate to the LCHC’s foundation, and help people like Carlotta Jordan continue to thrive. Become an organ donor through Donate Life NC. Equip seniors to navigate health insurance as a Medicare counselor through Senior PharmAssist.
Each of these options can turn the City of Medicine into a city of health. After all, how effective is a city full of medicine if it can’t become a healthy city, too?
Elizabeth Poindexter is marketing coordinator at DurhamCares. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.