Coulee Region health officials are pressing their quest to improve residents’ overall well-being by diagnosing the impact of factors such as socioeconomic conditions.
The evolving concept of health equity “includes health care, but it’s a lot more,” said Jordan Bingham, who will address the topic as keynote speaker Friday at the annual Health Summit of the La Crosse Medical Health Science Consortium.
“Having access to health care is only about 20 percent of it,” said Bingham, health equity coordinator for public health in Madison and Dane County. “Other things include the environment — and I don’t mean just clean air and water. Those play a part, but it also includes healthy housing, healthy food and healthy activities.”
Some people don’t have access to such advantages, she said, adding, “Where people live, their education, their income, race and social class are significant health predictors.
“Over the years, we’ve educated people on how to be healthy but not addressed the environmental factors,” Bingham said.
The theme of the summit from 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Lunda Center at Western Technical College is “Health Equity: The Opportunity for Health Begins in Our Families, Neighborhoods, Schools and Jobs.”
It piggybacks on the outcome of the summit last year, when participants resolved to examine factors such as income, poverty and education, consortium executive director Catherine Kolkmeier said.
“I hear more and more in the community about how health is tied to people’s circumstances — how we live, where we work,” Kolkmeier said.
“There is a lot of momentum in the community about neighborhood revitalization, and that is tied into health,” Kolkmeier said.
Previously, health considerations often were split into clinical care at hospitals, the physical environment in the city and county and socioeconomic conditions that various public agencies addressed, she said.
“It’s become more obvious now that you can’t separate the health and the socioeconomic conditions,” she said.
Although data exist on the federal and state levels, it’s harder to discern statistics locally, so the consortium is working on that, Kolkmeier said.
The consortium, which covers 20 counties in the tri-state area, and other local agencies have developed a reputation for taking health initiatives seriously, said Bingham, who previously was the state’s Healthy Communities coordinator.
“A lot of places around the state see La Crosse as a leader,” she said. “Folks there are doing great work with smoke-free living … and increasing access to healthy foods and activities.”
Avoiding the political rabbit hole of the Affordable Care Act, Bingham said Obamacare at least is creating access to health care for people who didn’t have it before.
Beyond that, though, she said, “What is our responsibility to create opportunities for people to live, work, learn and play?”
Bingham acknowledged differences between urban and rural areas.
“Urban communities traditionally are more walkable, more dense and have more resources,” such as being able to get to a park to exercise, she said.
“In rural settings, which are a huge challenge in Wisconsin, people may have a lot of physical activity. But in reality, most who live in rural areas traditionally drive to their jobs,” she said.
“When it comes down to it, the reality is we don’t all have the same opportunities,” she said. “I live close to two grocery stores. I can ride, walk, bus or drive to work.
“I can provide the basic needs, but people on limited income or with disabilities or who live in apartment where the only place to play is the parking lot cannot,” she said.
“All of us need to understand that our community isn’t healthy until all have the opportunities to close the health gap,” Bingham said.
“It may be obvious — but maybe not — it’s a sad state of affairs when where people live or their ZIP codes determine how healthy they are or how long they live.”