Publication: Saskatoon Star Phoenix; Date:2006 Nov 09; Section:Front
Page; Page Number: A1
RICH-POOR HEALTH GAP SHOCKING
Saskatoon’s Poor vs. Affluent SUICIDE ATTEMPTS —16 TIMES
HIGHER CHLAMYDIA —14.9 TIMES HIGHER DIABETES —12.9 TIMES
HIGHER MENTAL DISORDERS — 4.3 TIMES HIGHER Health region vows
to tackle problem
By Janet French of The StarPhoenix
Anew study that’s the first of its kind in the country shows residents
in Saskatoon’s poorest neighbourhoods more often end up in hospital,
at the doctor or on medication for serious health problems than the average
city resident or those who live in the wealthier east side.
Now, 18 Canadian cities are set to launch their own similar studies based on
Saskatoon Health Region research showing how broad the chasm between rich and
poor has grown.
Data set to be published Friday in the Canadian Journal of Public Health shows
those who live in Pleasant Hill, Riversdale, Westmount, Meadowgreen, King George
and the Confederation Suburban Centre have dramatically higher rates of hospitalizations
and sexually transmitted diseases compared to the city as a whole, and are
even worse off compared to residents of Erindale, Arbor Creek, Briarwood, Lakeridge
and College Park East.
Dr. Cory Neudorf, one of the study’s authors and the Saskatoon Health
Region’s medical health officer, said the finding replicates what numerous
studies have previously shown at an international, national and provincial
level — the poorer people are, the poorer their health.
What he didn’t expect was how wide the gap is between wealthy and needy
Based on government data from 2001, nearly four times as many people from low-income
neighbourhoods wound up in hospital after attempting suicide compared to the
rest of the city. The number of suicide attempts is also more than 15 times
higher than the number in affluent neighbourhoods.
Hospitalizations for diabetes were three times higher in low-income neighbourhoods
than the rest of the city, and nearly 13 times higher than in the eastern suburbs.
“I went through what you usually go through in the cycle of hearing shocking
news — denial,” Neudorf said.
He looked back at the data to see if there was a mistake.
“Once you confirm it, there’s the shock and disbelief and kind of
a grieving response,” he said.
Hospitalizations and doctor visits for injuries and poisonings, coronary heart
disease, mental disorders and the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections
such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and hepatitis C are so much higher in low-income
neighbourhoods that it reveals how far residents there are falling behind,
While only 46 per cent of inner-city tots are up to date with their measles,
mumps and rubella vaccinations, 95 per cent of kids in affluent areas are covered.
Babies born in the lowerincome cluster of neighbourhoods are more than five
times likelier to die than an average city baby.
Although one west-side resident says the study makes for good political ammunition,
she worries the data will further ghettoize core-area residents in the eyes
of the rest of Saskatoon.
“One of my major concerns with the research is that it will further divide
the city,” said Lisa Erickson, a member of the Westmount community association. “I
have concerns about the east side-west side dichotomy.”
Although she appreciates input from experts, Erickson believes solutions to
the community’s health disparities have to come from community members.
“If we’re discovering that there are problems, as this study tells
us, do we need to be studied even further?” she said.
Pat Tymchatyn, president of the Meadowgreen community association, questions
how well the study represents the true situation in west-side neighbourhoods.
Most residents are renters and transient compared to the bulk of homeowners
in the city’s east end, she said.
The study is not for “shock value,” Neudorf said. It gives the
health region hard numbers to explain its anecdotal observations and a starting
point from which it intends to make improvements and measure progress.
In advance of the study’s release, the health region had 150 meetings
with community associations, school boards, healthcare workers and non-profit
organizations such as the United Way.
“Some of my friends who have been more involved as community activists
take the position that this shouldn’t have been a surprise to anybody,
but it was shocking to me,” said Christine Smillie, executive director
of the United Way of Saskatoon. “I had no idea the differences would be
In response to the study, the United Way will announce a donation for inner-city
after-school programs in Saskatoon at a news conference this morning. She hopes
it prompts other organizations and government agencies to open their purses.
The health region will also announce a re-allocation of $800,000 from other
areas to pay for a more intensive immunization program and better sexual health
services in the inner city and to encourage more health professionals to work
in the core areas, where doctors are sparse.
Both public and Catholic school boards said they’ll offer their schools
as community centres for providing some medical services and will bring wellness
lessons into classrooms.
Health Minister Len Taylor said Wednesday although there will be no immediate
funding announcement for the health region in response to the study, the department
will consider funding longterm strategies to help alleviate the health disparities.
The study emphasizes the need for more initiatives to improve housing conditions,
provide universal child care and raise the standard of living, said Vanessa
Charles, co-chair of the Saskatoon Anti-Poverty Coalition.
“When you don’t have food in your belly, and you live in housing
that is less than adequate, obviously it’s going to affect your health
in a huge way.”
Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., MP Tony Martin, the federal NDP social policy critic,
is dropping by today’s announcement to gather ammunition for lobbying
the federal government to open its coffers to fund more social programs.
Ottawa has the “lion’s share” of tax dollars and cash, he
said, and government continually hears reports of how it is “awash” in
“If I was a poor person out there trying to grub for a meal for me and
my kids, that would be really insulting,” Martin said.
The study is just a starting point for the health region. Coauthor and senior
research epidemiologist Mark Lemstra said the work has prompted 32 ongoing
studies, such as how long low-income residents are staying in hospital compared
to other Saskatonians and surveying inner city kids about what kinds of programs
they think would help.
— SP Photo by Greg Pender
Dr. Mark Lemstra (left) and Dr. Cory Neudorf with copies of a report
on health disparity by income Wednesday prior to a news conference
at Royal University Hospital
Health region study