CT’S HEALTH GAP: ‘Where you live can be good, or bad, for your health’

Dr. Jewel Mullen CT Public Health Commissioner
Dr. Jewel Mullen CT Public Health Commissioner

In Connecticut, where you live is a strong determinant of how healthy or unhealthy your family is, and who bears the biggest burden of chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma. A new program is about to be launched to address this inequity.

Beginning this month, two of the state’s leading public health associations and the Connecticut Department of Public Health will host a series of educational forums for decision-makers to highlight the public health consequences of Connecticut’s housing patterns. Participants will include state lawmakers, developers, and local land-use and community development officials.

Connecticut Public Health Association (CPHA) President Kathi Traugh said the goal is to forge new strategic partnerships and develop policy initiatives aimed at reducing the housing and health equity gap.

“Despite Connecticut being one of the wealthiest states in the nation, it is characterized by high social and economic contrast,” Traugh said. “It is well documented that the racial and ethnic subgroups in our state suffer disproportionately from major chronic diseases and other causes of death.”

“Where you live can be good, or bad, for your health,” she said, noting that health inequity leads to high healthcare costs.

Developing an action plan

Earlier this year, the American Public Health Association (APHA) awarded a $10,000 grant to its state affiliate, the CPHA, to develop a statewide Action Plan for Housing and the Health Gap.

Joining CPHA in this program are the state Department of Public Health’s Healthy Homes Initiative, and the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health. The goal of the project is to develop a statewide Action Plan for Housing and the Health Gap.

This should draw attention to the link between housing and health equity, and to the financial consequences of public health inequity.

On Friday, Nov. 14, the partnership will hold a session for state lawmakers at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, and in January the program will convene a housing and health summit.

Office of Health Equity

In September, state Public Health Commissioner Jewel Mullen announced the creation of the Office of Health Equity, which will work to eliminate negative health disparities in Connecticut based on “race, ethnicity, age gender, socioeconomic position, immigrant status, sexual minority status, language, disability, homelessness, mental illness or geographic area of residence.”

The new unit will replace the former state Office of Multicultural Health.

Complicated issue

Traugh highlighted some of the reasons why addressing the housing and health equity gap has historically been a complicated issue in Connecticut:

— Because there is no county government, most land-use decisions are made on the municipal level, where towns place local interests above what might be best for their region or the state. Only 31 of Connecticut’s 169 towns have any considerable amount of affordable housing.

— Currently, state and federally funded housing construction projects do not require a health impact assessment during the approval process.

— Connecticut’s housing supply is aging, with 30% of the state’s housing stock being built before 1950 compared to 19% nationally. But no statewide property maintenance code exists to address substandard housing.

— Five of Connecticut’s largest cities account for 42% of all asthma hospitalizations statewide.