Advocate: Racism behind health gap

Those in mainly black areas of St. Louis had the city’s worst health, a study finds.
Monday, October 31, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:55 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

ST. LOUIS — An advocate for the state’s uninsured and underinsured said racism is partly to blame for blacks’ relatively poor health in St. Louis.

James Kimmey, president and chairman of the Missouri Foundation for Health, said Saturday that “the built-in racism and discrimination in our health care system” treats some people as less deserving of quality health care.

“Those institutional barriers must be broken down,” Kimmey said at a forum on eliminating disparity in health care.

The forum at St. Louis University was sponsored by U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and Donna Christensen, a Democrat who serves as the U.S. Virgin Islands’ delegate to Congress. Christensen leads the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust.

Bill Dotson, chief of the city’s Bureau of Family, School and Community Health, said a 2004 study by the St. Louis Health Department found that residents in three predominantly black ZIP codes continued to receive the poorest medical care and have the worst health in St. Louis.

Those ZIP codes — 63106, 63107 and 63113 — are all in the northern part of the city.

“It’s not a pretty picture, but it is the picture,” Dotson said.

The study ranked 18 ZIP codes in the city, using information gathered from 1999 through 2001.

It found health concerns in another ZIP code — 63118 — with a growing immigrant population, while the three healthiest ZIP codes — 63109, 63139 and 63116 — were all predominantly white.

The study found that, for black residents of St. Louis, the average death rates for diabetes, cancer, strokes and heart disease were all higher than for those in the white population. It also showed that, while the average life expectancy for whites in the city is 74.3 years, blacks can expect to live an average of 68.2 years.

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