SEIU-UHW announces campaign to fight health disparities in L.A. County

[Dec. 10, 2013] A group of 200 healthcare workers and community health leaders rallied on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall today to announce a new campaign aimed at reducing health disparities in the county.

The campaign is spurred by reports recently released by the County of Los Angeles and the City of Los Angeles which showed that life expectancy in some communities in Los Angeles is nearly 85 years, but far lower in other parts of the county, including 73 years in Watts, 75 in Lancaster, and 76 in Compton.

“No matter you live, I think we can all agree it’s unacceptable that a child born in one part of the county will live 12 years longer than a child born just a few miles away,” said Jim Mangia, CEO, St. John’s Well Child and Family Center which serves families in Central and South Los Angeles. “We have to unite as a county to address this problem.”

The campaign aims to bring together elected officials, community leaders, hospitals, and other foundations to develop and promote solutions to the problem. One of the ideas under consideration by the group is the creation of a wellness trust that would fund efforts that reduce health disparities. The trust would be funded by local hospitals, not by taxpayers.

“Some hospitals, like the California Hospital Medical Center, do a great job of devoting resources to reducing health disparities,” said Dave Regan, President of SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW), which represents 150,000 healthcare workers in California.  “Others, especially Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, do very little. California Hospital devotes far more to community benefits than does Cedars, even though Cedars collects ten times as much in revenues.”

According to publicly filed documents, California Hospital spent nearly $26 million, or 2.75 percent of its total revenues, in 2011 on direct community benefits, such as preventative care, wellness activities, health education, or other services that can reduce health disparities. In contrast, Cedars-Sinai devoted under $18 million, which is just 0.19 percent of its revenues.

At the press conference, two local residents shared stories about family members who died from preventable illnesses. Liliana Reyes of Highland Park lost her twin sister Leticia at age 23 to lung cancer that went undiagnosed because she couldn’t afford proper tests. And Sabrina Coffey-Smith of Hawthorne lost her brother Aubrey Coffey at age 53 to a heart attack because he had high blood pressure and lacked health insurance.

According to experts, lower life expectancy and poorer health status in the affected neighborhoods have several causes:

  • The physical environment, including a shortage of parks, playgrounds, sidewalks, and crosswalks, which limits physical activity by children and adults, thereby contributing to obesity.
  • Limited access to fresh, healthy food, and excess presence of junk food, thereby contributing to obesity.
  • Tobacco use, exposure to second-hand smoke, and alcohol and drug abuse.
  • Insufficient awareness by residents about the connection between food choices and the lack of physical activity with obesity and related illnesses that reduce lifespan.
  • Insufficient access to preventive health care, and early detection and treatment of illnesses.

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