Urban Health Initiative: Helping Northwest Atlanta residents access health

By Sally Wolff-King | Emory Health | Feb. 5, 2013

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"Health outcomes in inner city Atlanta are as bad as anywhere in the world," says Emory pediatrician and neonatologist William Sexson, a UHI senior adviser.

Imagine a single mom named Gloria. She has four small children and lives in Northwest Atlanta, an area once active with industry that is now an economic desert.

Gloria needs groceries but has no transportation. Her local shopping choices are the bodega on the corner or a package store down the block. A "ride man" will drive her to the grocery store a few miles away for $10 to $14 each way, but Gloria can ill afford the $28 fare. Even if she gets a ride with a friend, she has to bring along her four children because she lacks money for child care. The next problem is returning home with the children and the groceries.

Gloria is hardly alone in her struggles. Last year, 85% of the people living in her Section 8 apartment complex in Northwest Atlanta were unemployed. This year the number has risen to 97%.

The Emory University Urban Health Initiative (UHI)—a collaboration between Emory’s medical school and the Center for Community Partnerships—is organizing efforts to help people like Gloria who cannot get help on their own. To support and re-invigorate the Northwest Atlanta neighborhood and provide needed services, Emory, Morehouse College, Georgia State University, and the city of Atlanta, among others, are collaborating with local community organizations, residents, teachers, and leaders to change the trajectory for the children, youth, and families in this corridor. Groups such as Charitable Connections, Healing Community Center, Ben Massell Dental Clinic, and Community Building Coalition of Northwest Atlanta, which Emory has long supported, are working together to find free or low-cost medications and health care for those at the lowest income levels.

"We bring together resources to help solve health, transportation, and other community issues and create healthy hubs in Gloria’s community," says Carolyn Aidman, UHI senior program associate. For example, the Emory Sustainability Initiatives Fund recently funded a transit study by UHI to develop a Labor Limo to provide women in labor with non-emergency transport to the hospital.

"Health outcomes in inner city Atlanta are as bad as anywhere in the world," says Emory pediatrician and neonatologist William Sexson, a UHI senior adviser. "Our infant mortality rate is one of the worst in the country. That is an Atlanta problem and a Grady Hospital problem. We own this problem."

Among other projects in Northwest Atlanta, faculty and students from Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health have conducted needs assessments in Section 8 housing and grocery stores. Volunteers have educated local residents about nutritious foods in a neighborhood where obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are widespread. Emory otolaryngologist and UHI co-director Charles Moore has developed a local clinic, the Healing Community Center, to provide medical services nearby.

Data collected on low birth-weight babies also allows the project to demonstrate accountability, says Sexson. "As a neonatologist, I take care of small babies. We use geocoding to determine, within several hundred yards, where very low-weight babies come from. This coding can show us where we need educational efforts, where the problems are. In this day and age of limited resources, people want to know whether projects such as ours work, and whether we spent our money wisely," Sexson says.