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Kalamazoo County holds first Health Equity Summit

Brian Blanco
AP Photo

The creator of the nation's first Center for Health Equity in a local health department believes that good health care is a "basic human right" that communities everywhere need to make sure their citizens have. That’s the message Dr. Adewale Troutman, President of the American Association of Public Health in Washington, D.C., says he will deliver on Friday, July 19th, at Kalamazoo County’s first Health Equity Summit in Kalamazoo.

"The notion that there are differences in health status and outcomes, and health access for large segments of the population, based upon race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, disability status...should be unacceptable,” Troutman said in an interview with WMUK in advance of his appearance.

Troutman says health disparities are “based on systematic, unfair, unjust practices and social structures that have been constructed by human beings over the decades going back centuries when you look at the health status of the African-American community." He says there are a number of factors leading to differences in health status and outcomes that go beyond what happens in the doctor’s office and at the hospital. Troutman says key among them is where a person lives, something he says influences the quality of health-care options and access to transportation to get that care. There is also a link between a person's health and such things as crime rates as well as the number of fast-food restaurants and liquor stores in a neighborhood. Troutman says lack of a high school diploma and having a low income are factors as well.

Troutman established the country’s first Center for Health Equity in a local health department when he was director of the Metro Louisville Department of Health and Wellness in Kentucky. In 2010, Kalamazoo County followed suit and opened a similar center of its own.

Troutman, who is the executive director of the Public Health Practice and Leadership program at the University of South Florida, argues that “dramatic change” in health inequities is only possible through a highly organized response "at the highest levels.” He says that must include raising awareness of the issue, creating civic engagement, and advocating for policy change. "There is a notion that there is no them, only us, because we are all in this together, so we have to find a way to address (health disparities),” he says.

Officials say registration is closed for the sold-out Health Equity Summit, for which over 175 people have signed up. The event takes place at the Radisson Plaza Hotel in downtown Kalamazoo. It is sponsored by the Kalamazoo County Department of Health and Community Services in partnership with the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Western Michigan University's School of Medicine, and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

For more information, visit the department's web page or call (269) 373-5200.

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