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Code Red presentation at ICUH 2010

NEW YORK Code Red’s message has gone from Hamilton to Manhattan.

Spectator investigative reporter Steve Buist and Neil Johnston, a health researcher affiliated with McMaster University, presented results from their Code Red series Thursday and Friday at the ninth annual International Conference on Urban Health in New York City.

The conference featured more than 700 presentations from academic researchers spanning the globe.

The Spectator’s innovative Code Red health mapping project showed the strong connections that exist between health and poverty in Hamilton, broken down to the level of neighbourhoods.

The original series in April showed massive differences in health outcomes between Hamilton’s best and worst neighbourhoods, including a 21-year difference in life expectancy across city neighbourhoods.

Johnston called Code Red a unique alliance between science and journalism. It’s rare for a newspaper project to cross into the world of scientific academia.

“We wanted to take the results straight to the public, not publish them in an academic journal,” Johnston said during his talk. “It was about stimulating the community to take ownership of the issue.

“We wanted to energize the creation of health policies.”

Johnston’s discussion on Hamilton’s elevated rate of low birth weight babies highlighted the staggering disparities that exist between the city’s best and worst neighbourhoods.

The Code Red findings showed the combined low birth weight rate for the worst 20 per cent of Hamilton neighbourhoods was 90 times higher than the combined rate for the best 20 per cent of neighbourhoods.

“The range of outcomes we saw demands action,” Johnston said.

Johnston also noted that even though Canada has free, universal health care for its citizens, the rates of patients reporting that they had no family physician ranged from 3 per cent to 21 per cent in Hamilton neighbourhoods.

“Code Red generated wide community recognition of the inequity in determinants of health,” Johnston said, “and we wanted it to spark a political commitment to change.

“To that extent, we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”

In response to the Code Red series, the City of Hamilton has launched a new neighbourhoods initiative and hired Paul Johnson, former executive director of Wesley Urban Ministries, to help implement it.

Hamilton’s Shelter Health Network also made two presentations at the New York conference.

The network was developed as a series of rotating medical clinics at Hamilton homeless shelters to provide the city’s neediest residents with steady health care.

One presentation by the Shelter Health Network explained how the idea started with coffee shop discussions between Dr. Dale Guenter, Dr. Myles Sergeant and Dyanne Semogas, a registered nurse.

“The poorest, sickest people do not do well with set appointments,” Sergeant explained in the presentation. “How do you solve that problem? The answer is you take the clinic to the patients.”

The Shelter Health Network has also developed a system of electronic health records, which helps track the medical needs of homeless people who may shuttle from shelter to shelter.


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