Looking At A Life Expectancy Gap

Monday, March 24th 2008, 11:11 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsa County Health Department statistics show that, on average, residents of north Tulsa die 14 years earlier than those in south Tulsa.  On Monday, more than 100 health professionals and concerned citizens met in a forum to talk about the how race and economic status impact health in Tulsa. News On 6 anchor Craig Day reports those statistics show higher levels of diabetes, heart disease and infant mortality in African Americans are all reasons for such a wide gap in life expectancy.

Many hope Monday's forum is an important first step in finding solutions.  Leon Skillens, III, has lived in North Tulsa all of his life.  He wants to learn more about the roles economic status and race have on life expectancy in Tulsa.

"I look at it as a lack of infrastructure.  Things that are not in place for us to do to be successful citizens and probably overcome some of the health issues and concerns that are being talked about here today," said Leon Skillens, III.

There is reason for concern.  On average, the life span of people living in north Tulsa is 14 years less than south Tulsa residents.

"We realized when that number actually came to light, that we had a major problem in our city," said Reggie Ivey with the Tulsa Health Department.

Reggie Ivey with the Tulsa Health Department says the town hall meeting is the first step to address the problem.

The forum is part of a larger nationwide discussion about health inequities which can be caused by a wide range of issues.

"Grocery stores, sidewalks or walking trails that are safe and help promote exercise.  Those types of things.  There are not enough medical providers, substandard housing.  There are poor schools," said Reggie Ivey.

Typically, if those areas are improved, health improves.  But, part of the problem in north Tulsa is access.  There just aren't many clinics, doctors and other health professionals.  Arranging transportation to get to and from appointments is often difficult.

As for Leon Skillens,III, he's glad people are talking about the issue and he's hopeful it will lead to change.

"Maybe the people or the powers that be can look at the situation and do something about it so that the citizens who live in north Tulsa and are still there can have a chance.  They may not be able to all the way fully access the services, but to see it come to fruition would be a great thing and something that is long overdue in north Tulsa," said Leon Skillens, III.

A recent donation to OU Tulsa will establish the nation's first School of Community Medicine which might help.  It's hoped the $50 million donation from the George Kaiser Family Foundation will eventually mean more doctors in parts of the state where access to health care is limited.

News On 6 anchor Terry Hood served as moderator for the town hall meeting.

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