Baltimore Draws 10-Year Blueprint to Cut Racial Health Disparities

Jay Hancock, Kaiser Health News, August 31, 2016

Baltimore officials presented a 10-year plan Tuesday that sharply highlights the poor health status of African-Americans and aims to bring black rates of lead poisoning, heart disease, obesity, smoking and overdoses more in line with those of whites.

“We wanted to specifically call out disparities” in racial health, said Dr. Leana Wen, who became the city’s health commissioner early last year. “And we have a moonshot. Our moonshot is we want to cut health disparities by half in the next 10 years.”

Black Baltimore leaders praised Wen for putting disparities squarely in the conversation even as they acknowledged the difficulty of achieving the plan’s goals.

“It’s a big challenge. There’s no debating that,” said Diane Bell-McKoy, CEO of Associated Black Charities, a Maryland nonprofit. “She takes a step forward more so than anybody else I’ve seen because she calls it out. Most of the time we find code words for it. We don’t call it out.”

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The health plan, called Healthy Baltimore 2020, was first reported by the Baltimore Sun. Officials plan to track blood-lead levels, overdose deaths, child fatalities, healthy-food availability and other indicators year by year. It’s called Healthy Baltimore 2020 because officials have set ambitious goals to achieve before 10 years is up, Wen said.

Tentative targets include cutting youth homicides by 10 percent and disparities in obesity, smoking and heart-disease deaths by 15 percent–all by 2020.

Tactics include more programs to reduce street violence, expanded anti-smoking campaigns, more home visits for pregnant women and increased access to naloxone, which blocks the effects of heroin.

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“It is affirming to see someone in Dr. Wen’s role address the uncomfortable truths behind health inequities,” said Debbie Rock, CEO of LIGHT Health and Wellness, which offers health and other community services on Baltimore’s west side. “This is a great platform to also address upstream factors” such as low incomes, she said.

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