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Community Health Assessment finds stark disparities between neighborhoods in Lawrence, Douglas County

This map, based on information provided by the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, shows the variation in life expectancy from the Douglas County average of 80.3 years. Residents of North and East Lawrence have a significantly lower life expectancy than the county’s average, while people who live in the rural western portions of the county tend to live longer.

Between the United States and countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Bangladesh, there exists an eight-year gap in life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization.

An eight-year life expectancy gap also exists between areas of North and East Lawrence compared to rural western Douglas County.

This statistic is among many that leaders are highlighting in the 2017 Douglas County Community Health Assessment.



Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.

Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said the sometimes stark differences in life expectancies across the community can be tied to how residents use health care.

Partridge said there is a two to threefold difference in how different Census tracts use health care screening services, use dental screening services, eat healthy food and get exercise, as well as in the prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“You can see in those maps how the behaviors we have, our availability, our use of health care services — all of those determinants of health lead to higher incidences of disease, which leads to a lower life expectancy,” he said.

A map included with the assessment shows the variation in life expectancy from the Douglas County average of 80.3 years, represented in yellow. The green area, covering most of the western and southwestern portions of the county, represents a life expectancy of 83.9 years; the orange area, which includes Lawrence neighborhoods adjacent to and north of the Kansas River as well as east of the University of Kansas campus, represents a life expectancy of less than or equal to 75.9 years.

Top 9 issues

The 2017 Douglas County Community Health Assessment includes findings from 57 organizational leaders’ evaluations of the local public health system; a community survey with 2,033 residents’ responses; and a health data report. The Health Plan Steering Committee identified the top nine issues from that data:

• Access to health services

• Access to affordable housing

• Alcohol, tobacco and drugs

• Child abuse and neglect

• Discrimination

• Healthy food access and food insecurity

• Mental health

• Physical activity

• Poverty and good-paying jobs

Partridge said the health department will shine a light on these issues and suggest evidence-based solutions, but ultimately the key to changing the status quo is in the hands of the community.

“We are not powerless,” he said. “In fact, we have a lot of power to change and make this a better place and to make those maps look different in the future. So it's really just a matter of what we choose to do moving forward.”

The assessment includes findings from 57 organizational leaders’ evaluations of the local public health system; a Community Health Issues Survey with 2,033 responses from county residents; and a health data report, compiling and analyzing national, state and county data. The Health Plan Steering Committee, comprising 27 representatives of local organizations, identified the top nine issues from that data.

Those top nine included five issues that had been identified in the first assessment in 2012: access to health care services; healthy food access and food insecurity; mental health; physical activity; and poverty and good-paying jobs. The four new top issues in this year’s assessment are access to safe and affordable housing; alcohol, tobacco and drugs; child abuse and neglect; and discrimination.

The department hosted four community forums around the county in August to discuss results of the assessment and gather input from attendees. Partridge said five years ago, the top two issues attendees named were mental health and access to health care services; this time, they were mental health and poverty.

“(Poverty) came out much stronger this time as an issue that people felt was important,” he said.

Asked to name the top three issues in terms of priority or severity for the community, Partridge concurred.

“There are some things, like poverty, that is a root cause of a lot of things in life,” he said. “So if we could wave our magic wand and solve any one problem, which would that be — what would create the greatest good? I think the poverty and good-paying jobs.”

Secondly, he listed housing, which he said might be a topic that many people know is an issue but might not recognize as a health issue specifically.

“We have so many people spending more than half their income on housing,” he said. “... When so much of your resources go into just that basic need of a roof over your head, it doesn't leave a lot leftover for the other things that are important, like healthy foods, good physical activity, and all the other factors of health.”

The third he named was discrimination.

“While we're a healthy county (overall), not everyone is healthy, and so much of that poor health has a connection to discrimination,” he said.

Partridge said the health issues survey showed that lower-income groups and underrepresented populations see the community far differently from the way affluent and white respondents see it, and he stressed that “as long as that's the case, it's going to be difficult to make true progress.”

The next steps forward will involve the steering committee meeting to work on a plan for the next five years. According to a tentative timeline on the health department’s website,, the goal is to submit the plan for approval by local governments in January.

The full assessment and its appendices are also available on the website. Partridge said he wants to continue to engage the community in the planning process. For more information or to give input on the plan, email

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Richard Heckler

I want IMPROVED Medicare Single Payer Insurance and I want it paid for with MY tax dollars.

IMPROVED Medicare Single Payer Insurance for ALL would cover every person for all necessary medical care 24/7 to include:

* Wellness
* prescription drugs
• hospital
• surgical,
• outpatient services
• primary and preventive care
• emergency services,
• dental
• mental health
• home health
• physical th
• rehabilitation (including for substance abuse),
• vision care,
• hearing services including hearing aids
• chiropractic
• durable medical equipment
• palliative care
• long term care



7 months, 2 weeks ago


Dorothy Hoyt-Reed

This is a no brainer. Chronic illnesses make you poor, so you can't afford a McMansion in the country.

7 months, 2 weeks ago


MerriAnnie Smith

Poor v Financially Secure

If you've ever been poor you know.

Otherwise, you'll probably sneer at the idea that poor people are less healthy than financially secure people.

1. Expand Medicaid
2. Then work hard and seriously on single payer

Then watch these disparities disappear.
If you don't care enough to do that... then get out of the way of those who do care.

7 months, 2 weeks ago


Fred Whitehead Jr.

There are three misrepresentations..........Lies.......Damned Lies..........and Statistics.

This is a lot of hogwash. People in all areas of town ( or the world for that matter) will live long lives........Some will die before 65...........some will live to be 90..............

Where you live in town ( or the entire world for that matter) has no effect on longevity.

Smoking, drinking, driving like a damned fool, all affect your life expectancy more that your address. This is a lot of foolish baloney.

7 months, 2 weeks ago


Kevin Elliott

I realize science math and other facts really get in the way of your opinions quite often.

Good luck with that.

7 months, 2 weeks ago


Jeffry Helms

North Eastern Kansas has a bigtime IM intra-muscular steroid problem--which cause's liver cystis--heart problems and prostate swelling/cervical ovarian cancer which leads to anal sex and 90% rate chance of deadly std's. AND changes the human sex organ with dna markup that affects the unborn child----The sports programs are not worth it when you think about what really happens to our genetic make-up. Alot of people have and 'are" because of their anabolic steroid use so-it's a financial situation alot of times for weight gain or school scholarships etc. or acceptance-but the medical is phenom. with steroids. Steroid use goes alot deeper in society with break up of the family and a "sexual inadequacy" mental complex that leads to pedphiling etc.. In the long run because of our gene pools being corrupted--Anabolic Steroids are not worth it

7 months, 2 weeks ago


David Holroyd

The west side has all of the "retirement" communities..folks born after 1930..Come back and revisit Lawrence in 10 years and very unlikely that there will be many over 75.....

Look at the them each day....people are not making 80 even. The only people living longer are born between 1900 and 1930....after that ,,,dropping off like flies...and those born in the " hope they make 75.

alcohol,drugs, smoking, obesity, sitting in the car feeding their faces as they go thru drive thrus...texting AND the car wrecks will kill more ....

Wonder why Lawrence has a high rate of pancreatic cancer deaths?

7 months, 2 weeks ago


Francis Hunt

Alcohol, tobacco and drugs cost $$$$, physical activity such as walking or running costs $0 aka nothing! You can't complain about not having access to healthy food and affordable housing when you prioritize your spending on alcohol, tobacco and drugs. You can't complain about your health or access to health care when you choose to smoke and do drugs. It's frustrating to stand in the check out line and watch someone pay for their groceries with government aid and then whip out some cash to buy a couple packs of cigarettes (especially when they have children with them).

7 months, 2 weeks ago


Chris Tilden

The point Dan Partridge is making is that lifespan is something that can be impacted by public health policy if we understand what contributes to poor health. The average lifespan in Douglas County (like the U.S.) has increased substantially in recent times, due in large part to public health interventions (in fact, we live a little longer, on average). We KNOW there are effective policy strategies (and not just individual choices) that we CAN implement to prevent and reduce the chronic diseases and injury that are the leading causes of death in our community.

7 months, 2 weeks ago


David Holroyd

Dan Patridge needs money.....more staff to study death.

7 months, 2 weeks ago


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