Iowa City group works to decrease health disparities in low-income neighborhoods

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Asthma and other health issues are disproportionately high in Iowa City’s low-income neighborhoods, an issue the city is working to address through an ongoing grant project.

In 2016 Iowa City received a $60,000 Invest Health grant in order to explore ways to reduce disparities in asthma, depression and behavioral health in children and adults living in low-income households. The project is focused on ways to address the physical environment of these neighborhoods — like affordable housing and access to play and exercise areas — in ways that will improve health outcomes.

“When you improve low income neighborhoods, you improve the whole city,” Tracy Hightshoe, Iowa City’s neighborhood services coordinator and Invest Health team member, said.

The effort is part of the national Invest Health program that is working to change the way city leaders address health concerns in low-income communities by encouraging them to collaborate across different fields and specialties. Hightshoe said the Iowa City Invest Health team members, a group of five professionals in health fields and city government, would never have met each other if it hadn’t been for the initiative.

“They’re dedicated and we think we can make some big strides,” Council Member Pauline Taylor, another Invest Health team member, said of the group.

The team is tasked with creating a data-driven plan by December that will be presented to potential funders, according to the College of Public Health’s website.

Through new collaborations with local leaders, 33 stakeholders from diverse professions (including representatives of United Way, hospital systems, schools and residents) will communicate with the Invest Health team members to find solutions and appropriate funding to help improve the health of people living in the Broadway, Towncrest, Hilltop and Pheasant Ridge neighborhoods.

According to a presentation from the Invest Health team at Tuesday’s city council work session, poverty rates increased from 18 percent in 2005 to 28 percent in 2014, meanwhile median gross rent increased from $572 in 2000 to $861 dollars in 2014. Neighborhoods burdened by poverty have also seen an increase in asthma related visits to the ER and a higher rate of mental health issues compared to surrounding neighborhoods.

According to a survey of 585 individuals in 177 households administered by the Invest Health team, 51 percent of residents in the Hilltop, Broadway and Towncrest neighborhoods feel sad, lonely and angry most days.

“This project is a way to help them rather than see people get locked up in jail or allow bad things to happen,” Hightshoe said.

“There is a huge waiting list for appointments to get assessments from psychiatrists and the next option is to go to the emergency room,” which will not provide adequate mental health assessments, she added.

The same survey reported that 31 percent of residents in these neighborhoods see a personal doctor, while 29 percent receive healthcare from the ER. It also reported that the leading barrier to receiving health care was not having insurance.


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Throughout the summer, the Invest Health team members will hold community meetings to ask the public what types of health and wellness programs they would like implemented or expanded. The first of these meetings will occur Saturday, June 24 at 6 p.m. during the Juneteenth Celebration in Mercer Park.

“We’re going to take whatever ideas the neighborhoods want and then bring it to our stakeholders to see if we can get more funding,” Hightshoe said.

According to Hightshoe, the overall goal is to start partnering with more people in the community such as the healthcare industry to improve the lives of Iowa City residents and reduce health disparities for people of various incomes.

In order to improve the health and well-being of Iowa City residents, she said we must take preventative measures to make sure every resident has the opportunity to exercise outside in safe neighborhoods and has access to healthy foods.

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