A new report by the city’s Department of Public Health finds that Philadelphia’s overall health trails other major cities. This is distressing but not surprising, because our poverty rate is among the highest of any city in America, and poverty and poor health are inextricably linked.
To help break that link, Project HOME, Independence Blue Cross and AmeriHealth Caritas are teaming up to launch Keystone Connection to Wellness. This new initiative aims to improve health outcomes in one of the most economically distressed sections of Philadelphia. We believe by addressing both health and socioeconomic needs, we can begin to reduce poverty and overcome its effects on health and well-being.
Keystone Connection to Wellness will convene social service and health organizations to stitch together a broad array of services for residents in North Philadelphia, in particular those living in the 19121 and 19132 zip codes.
We picked these neighborhoods because their poverty rate of 45 percent far outpaces the city’s overall rate. And that level of poverty leads to lower life expectancy (69 years vs. 75.5 for the city and 78.8 years for the nation) and higher infant mortality (13.1 deaths per 1,000, 56 percent greater than the city as a whole, and 126 percent above the national rate).
These outcomes are unacceptable. In the U2 song “Crumbs from your Table,” Bono sang: “Where you live should not decide, whether you live or whether you die.” He was highlighting international disparities, but his words ring true for Philadelphia, where a person’s zip code should not determine their physical and financial health.
Keystone Connection to Wellness will turn to the residents of these neighborhoods to help craft solutions, through a community advisory board that will guide priorities. The focal points for community engagement will be Project HOME facilities — the Stephen Klein Wellness Center, the Honickman Learning Center Comcast Technology Labs and the Helen Brown Community Center — but outreach could extend to libraries and other points of contact.
We will also use data to drive decision making and steer those in need to the right resources. One goal is to empower people to manage their health by giving them the information they need regarding nutrition, diabetes, obesity, childhood asthma and exercise. And we know that improved health outcomes depend on related services like affordable childcare, food security, transportation, housing, behavioral health services and employment opportunities. This initiative will expand access to these types of services.
For example, Project HOME could use grant funds toward support services to increase program participants’ income through educational, job training and employment opportunities. Program participants could be referred to these employment support services by self-referral and staff referral from Stephen Klein Wellness Center, Helen Brown Community Center, and the Honickman Learning Center Comcast Technology Labs to start.
Another example could be to utilize grant funds toward maternal and family health by increasing access to Project HOME’s existing Centering Pregnancy and Centering Parenting program. This program connects mothers and families to wellness, physical and behavioral health services, as well as other resources in the community, and is an evidence-based practice that has been shown to improve birth outcomes for families experiencing poverty.
The good news is that smoking fell to new lows in Philadelphia, according to the city Health Department report. Cancer rates have dropped slightly, and teen health indicators improved, the report found.
However, nearly 400,000 Philadelphia residents still live below the poverty line. That figure has not changed substantially in recent years, while the national poverty rate has fallen, according to a report last year by Pew.
As a city, we need to do better. All citizens deserve the right to a healthier life. With this program, we will attack some of the intractable problems surrounding health and poverty, so a person’s zip code does not determine how long they live.
Sr. Mary Scullion is president and executive director of Project HOME. Daniel J. Hilferty is CEO of Independence Blue Cross.