Health

A group of community leaders are looking at ways health disparities shape outcomes for some populations in Louisville, and what can be done to address them.

The African American Initiative, AARP Kentucky and other partners hosted the Health Disparities Summit this week, moderated by Democratic state Sen. Gerald Neal.

The group focused on what has led to poorer health outcomes among minority groups and the city’s predominantly Black West End, with a focus on those 50 and older.

Dr. Karen Krigger, a professor of family and geriatric medicine at the University of Louisville, was one of the panelists.

She spoke of how social determinants of health — poverty, environmental threats, inadequate access to health care, individual and behavior factors, and educational inequalities — can impact overall well-being. 

“When we talk about social determinants of health contributing to health disparity, one of the areas we have to talk about is economic stability,” she said. “And that’s reflected in employment, food insecurity, housing instability, and poverty.”

Referencing the 2020 Greater Louisville Project, Krigger pointed out that the more than 121,000 residents in Louisville’s California, Park Hill, Hallmark, Algonquin, Parklands, Russell, Shawnees and Portland neighborhoods have the highest unemployment and highest childhood poverty rates in the county. They have the lowest median income, educational attainment and life expectancy. 

Krigger said this leads to increased child mortality, and higher health risks for asthma, diabetes and heart disease than in other parts of Jefferson County. 

And more than half the residents in these neighborhoods don’t have broadband internet, which Krigger said puts them at a disadvantage socially, economically and health-wise. 

She said the health outcomes “cannot be reversed until we address the digital divide,” adding, “I can’t do telemedicine with my patients unless they have adequate digital resources.”

Policy changes like better investment in the West End and greater access to health care, healthy food, greenspace and clean air can help address the issues, panelists said.

They also suggested community partners need to help teach residents about healthier lifestyle choices, like the benefits of getting more exercise and limiting sodium.  

Pastor Alma Wooley said she talks with her congregation at Christ Cathedral of Praise about those options.

“I believe that it’s going to take all of us working together,” she said. “Everybody within the community has to come together and work towards this goal of teaching and demonstrating what it takes to live healthier lives.

She added, “All people should have access to resources, all people should have access to services and support that empowers them to live a life of dignity, not only live the life of dignity, but die with dignity as well.”

Aprile Rickert is WFPL's health reporter.