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Connecticut health inequality: DataHaven report exposes stark disparities

Executive Director of DataHaven, Mark Abraham spoke at DataHaven’s 2023 Connecticut Community Wellbeing Index. Datahaven, in collaboration with the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving presented highlights from DataHaven’s 2023 Connecticut Community Wellbeing Index to promote dialogue on the challenges and opportunities Connecticut faces on March 13, 2023, at the Capitol Building in Hartford, CT.
Ayannah Brown
Connecticut Public
Mark Abraham, executive director of DataHaven, spoke about DataHaven’s 2023 Connecticut Community Wellbeing Index on March 13, 2023, at the state Capitol in Hartford, Conn.

Disparities in health outcomes are visible across county, city and even neighborhood lines, according to the latest 2023 Community Wellbeing Index from DataHaven.

Take, for example, doctor appointments. People in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven said they missed doctor appointments due to lack of transportation at a rate more than double the statewide average in 2022.

Between 2018 and 2021, people in those cities ended up at a hospital for complications from a chronic condition such as alcohol use disorder, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma and mental health disorders at a rate more than double that of people in the surrounding areas.

“Housing or employment, we look at stuff like incarceration — those all have kind of neighborhood-by-neighborhood, in some cases, like block-by-block differences,” said Kelly Davila, senior research associate at DataHaven. “Health outcomes have lots of different inputs to them.”

The study also found that 20% of people who identify as Latin American in Greater Hartford did not have a primary care physician or a place to go if they got sick. Statewide, that rate is 11%, according to the report.

The study also found another alarming racial disparity with births. In Fairfield County Black babies are more than three times as likely to die at infancy (9.2 deaths per 1,000 live births) compared with white babies (2.7 deaths per 1,000 live births).

Mendi Blue-Paca, president and CEO of Fairfield County's Community Foundation, one of the nonprofits funding the report, said the nonprofit recently launched a maternal health initiative.

“We are trying to figure out how we can improve outcomes, for particularly women of color in our country around maternal health,” she said.

The share of births with late or no prenatal care is twice as high for Black mothers (about 7%) as white mothers (about 3%). Blue-Paca said the report would help guide nonprofits to make investments in the community that have the most impact.

“Certainly as the report reveals, the need looks very different depending on your ZIP code, and sometimes as narrow as your street,” she said. “And so we do very much target our dollars to the areas where the need is greatest.”

The foundation funds initiatives focused in Bridgeport, and also Norwalk, Stamford and Danbury in Fairfield County.

The study looked at census tracts, which in certain cases, are smaller than ZIP code regions. The U.S. Census Bureau defines a census tract as generally having “a population size between 1,200 and 8,000 people, with an optimum size of 4,000 people.”

The index includes national, state and local data, including a survey of 9,000 residents statewide.

“We've tried to show that there are health impacts that may be focused in a particular community or demographic, but the outcomes of that or the impacts of that do affect the state as a whole,” Davila said.

For example, gun violence: “A lot of people kind of consider that an urban phenomenon,” Davila said. “In fact, we do see that there's certainly a lot more fear of gun violence in the cities and in the suburbs in Connecticut.”

But looking at the number of years of living lost, and therefore earning potential, the economic impact is widespread, she said.

The study also found that food insecurity increased in 2022 compared with the prior year, as a result of diminishing pandemic relief programs, and it varied by race and ethnicity. In Greater New Haven, 34% of Latino adults and 25% of Black adults report being food insecure, compared with 11% of white adults.

The child poverty rate in Fairfield County’s six wealthiest towns is 3%. In contrast, Bridgeport’s child poverty rate is over 23%. Poverty rates are higher for households with children, single-parent households and female-led households. Single-parent households led by women under 25 have the highest poverty rates.

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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