Niagara Gazette

September 25, 2013

BRADBERRY: How'd we get so sick? Will we get well?

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — I’m TRYING to scare you — it’s for your own benefit, read this!

Niagara County ranks 59th out of 62 counties in New York state in overall health outcomes; our residents have substantially higher mortality rates for cardiac diseases when compared to New York state averages.

Right now, compared to other counties with a similar number of residents, the average death rate in Niagara County for coronary heart disease is higher than that of Upstate New York. In fact, mortality rates for heart diseases are rising in Niagara County while the rates for New York state have decreased.

Obesity, long believed to be the culprit behind many chronic diseases, is a real challenge for Niagarans because it creates increased risk for both heart disease and diabetes, often resulting in premature death.

It is a particularly difficult challenge in poorer neighborhoods where too much grocery shopping is done at corner stores where often, the least healthy, most fattening foods are more available than fresh healthy alternatives.

And consider this, chronic diseases, considered the most preventable, account for seven of every 10 deaths in New York state. In Niagara County, 22.4 percent of adults over age 64 have been diagnosed with diabetes while the state average for diabetes diagnoses of adults over age 64 is 17.9 percent.

A closer look at the Niagara County Health Department’s Community Health Assessment (2010-2013) and other supporting data tells a startling story:

• 62.4 percent of residents are overweight or obese

• 36.4 percent of adults have high blood pressure

• 15 percent of residents are considered in poor or fair health

• 27.1 percent of residents smoke

• 27 percent of residents consider themselves obese

• 17 percent of residents consider their alcohol use as excessive

• 9 percent of residents are diabetic

• 16 percent of residents are uninsured

• 18 percent of residents believe there is inadequate social support

• 34 percent of children live in single‐parent households

Yet, in spite of our unhealthy condition, the Affordable Care Law, which when fully implemented could help provide some desperately needed help to our desperately unhealthy residents and millions like us around the country, is still being hotly contested within the hallowed halls of Congress; meanwhile, we seem to be getting fatter, sicker and more confused every day while the debate rages on.

Fortunately, in the two years since inception, the Law has already begun to make significant beneficial changes for millions of Americans according to one analysis available at whitehouse.gov:

• 2.5 million more young adults have health insurance on their parent’s plan.

• In 2010 and 2011, over 5.1 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved over $3.1 billion on prescription drugs. These savings include a one-time $250 rebate check to seniors who hit the “donut-hole” coverage gap in 2010, and a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs in the donut hole in 2011. And everyone with Medicare can get key preventive services like mammograms and other cancer screening tests for free.

• Insurance companies can no longer drop your coverage when you get sick because of a mistake on your application, put a lifetime cap on the dollar amount of coverage you can receive or raise your premiums with no accountability.

• Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. And in 2014, discriminating against anyone with a pre-existing condition will be prohibited.

Of course there is a direct correlation between poverty and health; there is no getting around that not-so-small matter. Consider the Niagara County Department of Health Community Assessment findings, for example:

With barely more than 48,000 residents, in Niagara Falls our median income of households is barely $30,000 with unemployment as chronic as our health, hovering near 9-10 percent and much higher, possibly more than double the median in some highly distressed neighborhoods.

Of those people actually working, according to the assessment, “the most common occupations were sales and office occupations, followed by service occupations.”

And as is so painfully obvious, of approximately 27,000 housing units in the City of Niagara Falls nearly “21 percent are vacant, 55 percent are single unit, 43 percent are multi-unit dwellings and 2 percent are mobile homes.

Nearly 57 percent of residents are identified as renters.

With numbers like these, and resources as few as they are, Niagara needs Affordable Care that goes far beyond addressing symptoms of poverty, and focuses on the causes.

The cure?

A healthy dose of economic development medicine in the form of sustainable businesses that will provide life supporting JOBS!

Feel me?

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com