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How professionals are working to address health care disparities in Northeast Ohio

In many cases, your life expectancy depends on your zip code.

CLEVELAND — Racism is a public health issue, and health care disparity is the difference between one person's health outcomes versus another.

However, access to doctors is only 20% of the problem. Wellness is dictated by other factors, too.

"It's education, it's quality of housing, it's income, it's whether or not you have a park on your street, it's whether or not you have a vacant house on your street," Vickie Johnson, senior director of government and community relations at Cleveland Clinic, said

In fact, your life expectancy depends on your zip code. The Center for Community Solutions studied Ohio neighborhoods, and in Cuyahoga County, the difference of decades can be within a couple of miles.

"There's a spread between the highest life expectancy neighborhood and the lowest life expectancy neighborhood of 23 years," Center for Community Solutions research assistant Kate Warren explained. "What's wild is in Cuyahoga County, those census tracks are very close together."  

Relating to health care, research shows systemic racism is a fact regardless of socio economic status.

"Black members of our communities who even have higher education and income still experience these health disparities," Warren said.  

Cleveland's main hospitals are located in neighborhoods of concern, so they are trying to be part of the solution. Cleveland Clinic set up programs to help educate and then hire future nurses as well as other critical positions.

"For every additional dollar that you earn, you live longer, your quality of life is better," Johnson said.  

Another issue? Access to healthy food.

"There are people living in our neighborhood that shop at a gas station in a corner store," Johnson stated. "That's unacceptable because, as health care professionals, we know food is medicine."

So the Clinic partnered with Meijer and earlier this year delivered thousands of pounds of food to nearby neighborhoods. Then, they took it a step further, and are planning to build a grocery store where residents say they want it.

"We are very excited," Johnson said. "We're going to create 40 jobs there for residents, so this is huge."

It's a step in the right direction, but there's far more work left to do.