Temple is teaming up with city and state departments in the North Philadelphia Health Enterprise Zone, a project aiming to combat health disparities in the area of the city deemed most in need.
People living in the “zone,” which encompasses ZIP codes between Spring Garden Street and Cheltenham Avenue, experience poorer health during their lifetimes, like shorter lifespans and increased obesity, a press release from the state government said.
“This is all about health, not about health care,” said Dr. Kathleen Reeves, the senior associate dean of health, equity, diversity and inclusion at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.
“The idea here isn’t just to make health care better,” she added. “It’s to look at all the barriers that exist to people living in North Philadelphia. It’s to look at all of the barriers to living a healthy life in the enterprise zone and work toward giving people the capacity to truly be healthy.”
The identified health issues have resulted in the Health Enterprise Zone project’s four subcommittees: education, health, technology and community, all of which can contribute to a person’s health, Reeves said.
If disparities exist in any of these aspects of a person’s health, there is a series of social determinants of health, called unmet health-related social needs, that must be addressed, said Dr. Susan Freeman, the chief medical officer of the Temple University Health System, who is working on the health subcommittee.
President Richard Englert was slated to chair the education subcommittee, but asked Reeves to take his place.
Reeves said the disparity in life expectancy among different ZIP codes in the city was one of the driving forces that started the project.
“Your lifespan can be predicted by your ZIP code,” Reeves said. “If you live in the Strawberry Mansion area of Philadelphia, your lifespan average will be 20 years less than if you live around the Liberty Bell.”
The state will provide schools within the Health Enterprise Zone with $1.5 million to ensure students have access to higher quality health care. Temple will advocate that all schools provide vaccines, behavioral health care and trauma-informed teaching, Reeves said.
The project aims to create one of the first health care approaches that is precautionary about health issues, instead of dealing with problems once they have already happened, Reeves added.
“The medical field is the last one to realize this is what works,” she said.
Thirteen percent — nearly 300,000 people — of all Medicaid users in Pennsylvania live in the identified ZIP codes, the release said. The federal government states that small groups of people who seek health care very often in one area can drive up the cost of Medicaid, and subsequently how much people pay in taxes to support the program.
These “super-utilizers” frequently go to the hospital due to various illnesses and injuries.
Reeves explained that people with jobs have higher qualities of life and can monitor their health on a precautionary basis instead of trying to fix the problem after it has gotten serious.
The agencies responsible for the zone aim to address and eliminate barriers that “super utilizers” face — like poverty, unemployment and food insecurity.
The focus of the health committee, at first, will be to address the needs of those who use the health system most frequently, Freeman said.
“If people need to access the health system through the emergency room that frequently, the questions arise: ‘Are we really delivering optimal care to that patient population? What are we missing? What are the unmet social needs? Transportation? Are their utilities turned on? Are they hungry?’” Freeman added. “There are certain social determinants that we may or may not be addressing as a city that contribute to health outcomes.”
Researchers are identifying the 100 adults and 100 children who most often visit hospitals in these ZIP codes so they can drive down health care costs for the rest of the city and can determine through data if their work is successful.
The zone and its partnerships were announced in October, but little has been announced since. Temple’s education and health subcommittees have begun meeting internally, and meetings will start among the partners in the subcommittees across the state after the holidays, Reeves said.
At the kick-off event in October, a representative from the state’s health department indicated to Jeff Moran, Philadelphia’s department of public health director of communications, that the state does not have a “detail picture” of the city’s public health department’s role in the Health Enterprise Zone.
“We believe, regardless of what happens in the health enterprise, this is the right thing to do and we have to do it,” Reeves said. “We’re moving forward, regardless.”
A news release from Temple said “community stakeholders” will work with the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia to ensure more employment opportunities are available in the zone, with initiatives beginning as early as January 2017.
It is still too early to tell the amount of money Temple will invest into the Health Enterprise Zone as part of its partnership, university spokesman Brandon Lausch said last week.
Gillian McGoldrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gill_mcgoldrick.