Poverty Is Main Barrier To Health In Cuyahoga County

Trevelle Harp, Director for the Northeast Ohio Alliance for HOPE (NOAH), speaks about a grocery store initiative in East Cleveland. [Lecia Bushak / ideastream]
Trevelle Harp, Director for the Northeast Ohio Alliance for HOPE (NOAH), speaks about a grocery store initiative in East Cleveland. [Lecia Bushak / ideastream]
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Public health departments and hospitals in the past have worked independently to identify the greatest health challenges in their communities. This year, Health Improvement Partnership (HIP-Cuyahoga) released its first joint community health assessment as part of a partnership including Cuyahoga County Board of Health and University Hospitals.

The 2018 assessment pinpoints poverty as Cuyahoga County’s main barrier when it comes to health, says HIP-Cuyahoga co-chair Dr. Heidi Gullett at the annual meeting Thursday.

"Poverty is the primary driver of health outcomes, and we need to work together on these upstream issues, meaning issues that create conditions where people are unhealthy," Gullett said.

Gullet says safe housing and food insecurity are the main priorities in addressing poverty.

"When people have unsafe housing, it makes breathing problems worse, it creates breathing problems, it leads to lead poisoning and things like that, and that has a direct impact on health," Gullett said. "So we’ve started to go around some low-hanging fruit on topics where we have a direct impact."

The assessment also identified 13 top health issues facing the county, including cardiovascular disease, infant mortality, and mental health. HIP-Cuyahoga’s next steps involve using the assessment data to create plans to increase access to safe homes, transportation, and healthy food.

The annual meeting highlighted one campaign to bring healthy food to East Cleveland. The Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope (NOAH) is working to attract higher-quality grocery stores to the neighborhood.

"Our current object is in getting and providing for our precious city a grocery store," said Shirley Hatcher, a member of NOAH and an East Cleveland resident. "I want my grocery store to provide the same quality food and things that I usually have to go out to other stores to get what I need. I do put money in my neighborhood, but when I want quality I have to go outside the neighborhood."

The campaign aims to improve grocery store standards, like limiting unhealthy options and maintaining clean stores. They also hope to prioritize black supermarket ownership as well as economic inclusion through mandatory local hiring.

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