Details from the Boston Public Health Commission’s 2016-2017 Health of Boston Report that was released last week by Mayor Martin Walsh paint a familiar picture of the situation in Dorchester, where rates of unemployment, poverty, and chronic disease have been higher historically than those in other Boston neighborhoods.
Scotland Huber of the Codman Square Health said he was largely unsurprised by the data presented in the report. “Many of the social determinants of health are worse in our neighborhood compared to much of the rest of Boston,” he said, “and we know these factors contribute significantly to poorer health outcomes for our residents.”
The annual report compiles data from every neighborhood in the city to provide an overview of public health issues facing the city and offer insight into how those issues might be addressed.
In issuing the report, Walsh said that it “serves as a roadmap to drive and prioritize our efforts by not only describing the health successes and challenges we face as a city, but also by offering real world perspectives.”
The localized information shows clearly how a citizen’s health is shaped by his or her environment. “The physical or built environment in which people live is widely recognized as a determinant that influences mental and physical health,” the report notes. “Access to green spaces for exercise or relaxation, grocery stores and restaurants with affordable healthy foods, and safe housing are all important for maintaining good health.”
Despite the fact that much of the data in the report is two or three years old, Huber said it generally reflects the current state of things as seen at the health center.
One statistic from the report revealed that from 2011 to 2015, the opioid overdose rate in Boston increased by 94 percent. In some parts of Dorchester, rates of death by opioid overdose are higher than in the rest of the city, a number that Huber described as just the latest stage in a prolonged battle with the epidemic.
“As far as the opioid epidemic, this is not a new trend for us,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with opioid issues for decades. Now that the epidemic has spread into some other parts of the state, we’re seeing increased attention and funding, which has been very helpful in addressing the needs of our patients and residents, and allowing us to expand our Substance User Health Services and increase our integrated services.”
Another telling patch of data showed that residents throughout Dorchester were consuming fruits and vegetables at a lower daily rate than in the rest of Boston. The struggle for access to fresh, healthy food in many Dorchester neighborhoods is well documented as a persistent issue, although steps have been taken to address the deficiency in recent years. The Codman Square facility, which has been at the center of this movement, launched its new healthy living program, Dot Rx, last week.
“The nutritional and healthy food issues have seen some exciting developments over the past five years,” said Huber. “We’ve seen the opening of our partner and tenant Daily Table, helped sustain two community farmers markets, piloted various fruit and vegetable prescription programs, rolled out integrated nutrition services, and seen great renovations to our local grocery store, America’s Food Basket.
“Ultimately, challenges persist with habits and access to affordable, culturally appropriate, convenient healthy food, but the idea that the Codman Square area is a food desert is now history. We believe that with efforts like our Dot Rx program, more families will receive the support and empowerment to make healthy lifestyle choices.”
Regional data from Mattapan essentially mirrored the story in Dorchester, showing higher than average rates of unemployment and chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma. In Dorchester, data showed a correlation between these rates and high percentages of uninsured residents, particularly among foreign-born adults.
In addition to a variety of health services, CSHC also offers resources to help its patients learn about health insurance and ways to receive help paying for coverage. Huber said the annual health report is a good way to measure the health center’s impact on the community and assess various successes and challenges.
“Reports like this are important reminders of need and pulse checks to make sure needed services are being delivered,” he explained. “Though the numbers aren’t surprising, they are what gives our work meaning and we will continue to work alongside Boston Public Health Commission, the city of Boston, and numerous other valuable community partners to improve the lives of our residents and seek to create a culture of health.”