New program takes aim at health disparities in North Philadelphia

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     Mayor Jim Kenney speaks to a crowd of state, city, local, and private industry leaders about a new initiative to address health disparities in North Philadelphia. (Irina Zhorov/WHYY)

    Mayor Jim Kenney speaks to a crowd of state, city, local, and private industry leaders about a new initiative to address health disparities in North Philadelphia. (Irina Zhorov/WHYY)

    Taking up a holistic approach, a new program in North Philadelphia aims to improve residents’ health.  The Health Enterprise Zone initiative will focus on neighborhoods spanning Francisville and Northern Liberties to West Oak Lane and Olney.   

    Nearly a third of residents in the zone live below the poverty line, and people have significantly lower life expectancies than those residing in wealthier parts of Philadelphia. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Resources, 13 percent of all state residents who receive Medicaid live within the zone.

    The idea is for hospitals, universities, community centers, and others in the zone to figure out more effective ways to use existing resources to address those issues. The mission covers everything from health care access to job opportunities.  

    “When you look at the wealth and the resources that this country has, the fact that some folks have a 20 year lower life expectancy than people outside of this area should be unacceptable to everybody,” said state Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas. “So with that will, with all of those institutions, with everybody working together, our bet is there’s a better way to do this by coordinating and collaborating instead of competing, getting everyone around the table to find solution to change some of those numbers.” 

    Mayor Jim Kenney said the ultimate goal is to ensure all residents can grow up healthy.

    “God put us all here to meet our potential. And for many reasons, many residents don’t because of the obstructions they find in their lives. Our job as government is to remove those obstacles away so that people can experience great quality of life and make their children’s lives better than theirs were,” Kenney said.    

    The first step is assembling committees to analyze where resources are missing. The Department of Human Services plans to announce employment initiatives in January, and it will identify super-utilizers of the hospital services in order to target non-emergency care for them. The state is also making $1.5 million available to schools in the zone to improve health care for students. 

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