More than half of the deaths in recent years in a quarter of Baltimore's neighborhoods were avoidable, according to a new set of assessments from city health officials that were released Friday.
The data were collected in 55 neighborhoods and showed in stark numbers how wide the disparities are between upper- and lower-income neighborhoods, said Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot in a news conference to announce the results.
"People are dying way too early, too young in many neighborhoods," Barbot said. "This is a call to action."
The assessments provide a detailed look at so-called social determinants of health, including access to supermarkets, readiness for school and homicide rates. They also offer specific outcomes, such as deaths from heart disease and infant mortality.
The last set of neighborhood profiles came out in 2008 and showed that there was a 20-year gap in the life expectancy between the nicest and the toughest city neighborhoods. The gap has not yet narrowed, Barbot said, adding that it's still easier to walk to a liquor store in many neighborhoods than to a grocery store.
The starkest differences in the 1,000-page report can be seen between the Roland Park area in North Baltimore and the Upton/Druid Heights area just northwest of State Center, a cluster of state offices including the state health department.
Barbot said it was as if there were more than one Baltimore.
The average life expectancy in Roland Park is about 83 years, compared with Upton/Druid Heights, where it's 63 years. The city average is about 72 years.
In Roland Park, where most people are white, $90,500 is the median household income, 3.4 percent are unemployed, 7 percent live in single-parent households and no one lives in poverty.
In Upton/Druid Heights, where most people are black, median income is about $13,400, unemployment is 17.5 percent and close to half live in single-parent households and in poverty.
The number of people with bachelor's degrees, the prevalence of liquor stores, the number of vacant buildings and the absenteeism of kids in school are also at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The homicide rate in Roland Park is just over four for every 10,000 people, compared with about 38 in Upton/Druid Heights. About 16.6 percent of all deaths in Upton/Druid Heights can be attributed to homicide, HIV/AIDS or drugs, more than eight times the rate in Roland Park.
The Health Department plans to begin work in January with community leaders in each of the 55 neighborhoods to develop individual plans that identify the most pressing health needs and their underlying conditions for attention.
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Among the leaders in Upton/Druid Heights is the Rev. S. Todd Yeary, senior pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in the Upton/Druid Heights area and principal with Community Churches for Community Development.
He said unlike other neighborhoods that may be able to focus on a particular health malady like heart disease or cancer, universal top killers in Baltimore, Upton/Druid Heights will have to look more at basics like jobs, education and access to food that allow people to take better care of their health.
Yeary said community leaders will be looking to tap into federal health care reform and school lunch programs and other resources.
"They are living in inhuman conditions," he said of his church's neighbors. "We'll have to address a lot of issues at the same time that circle back to health. We'll have to collaborate and take advantage of opportunities and resources that are out there. … There is nothing about this that will be easy."