Drs. Rogers Cain, Jeffrey Goldhagen and Sumil Joshi
While parts of our city flourish economically, we still do poorly on nearly every meaningful metric of health. Addiction, child mortality, obesity and more — all of these are serious issues plaguing our city.
The statistics are grim. Compared to other major metropolitan areas in Florida, Duval County currently has 40% higher teen birth rates, 80% higher child mortality rates and 66% higher drug overdose rates. These numbers are concerning and an indication that something must change.
The issue is not a lack of commitment and effort; there is a wide array of highly skilled and committed organizations and individuals working in Jacksonville on health issues. The problem stems from lack of funding, coordination and leadership, as well as ineffective communication and prioritization. With leadership from local government, in collaboration with communities and stakeholder organizations and advocates, we can advance the health of our city, decrease disparities and eliminate health inequities.
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It will take a sustained investment from the city to achieve these advances. Historically, we do not apply for many federal and private sector grants for community health programs, nor have we taken a leadership role in leveraging federal programs to our benefit. Along with an appropriate budget provided by the city, by applying for federal programs and other grants, we can generate additional resources to invest in local health care and public health programs and facilities.
The bureaucracy for services is astounding, for both patients and providers. When resources are allocated for community health, the lack of local health professional leadership and coordination results in inefficient and ineffective services and outcomes. Too many resources are being wasted.
The next mayor of Jacksonville must make it a priority to invest in the basic foundations of health that need financial and logistical support, including nutrition counseling, mental health programs, access to physical activity, addiction counseling and the like — all tied to economic development. This means ensuring the city is involved in community outreach — across the spectrum from the elderly and infirm, to mothers with newborns to improve maternal and child health.
A mayor serious about health in this city would appoint a chief health officer in charge of supporting and coordinating the great work of our medical institutions, nonprofit providers and many other health-related organizations already at work in Jacksonville. The chief health officer would also have staff devoted to applying for grants and funding available to improve our community efforts toward achieving better health.
Our poor health outcomes are complicated and very much related to disparities in socioeconomics — it is critical to understand that any plan for improving the health of our region must be merged with plans for economic development, in particular in parts of town that have traditionally been left behind, If we can provide better public health services, ensure equitable access to the highest quality healthcare and remove food or pharmacy deserts, we can improve health outcomes, decrease disparities and eliminate the inequities that have plagued our community for generations. We will also be far better prepared for future emergencies — including pandemics, hurricanes and climate change.
Health is a critical plank in Donna Deegan’s platform for mayor, and her willingness to discuss her plan with local medical professionals speaks volumes of her deep desire to make her hometown one of the healthiest in America. We are excited to have a candidate for mayor who will do all she can to optimize the health of our entire community— as a centerpiece of her administration.
Rogers Cain, MD, Jeffrey Goldhagen, MD, and Sumil Joshi, MD
This guest column is the opinion of the authors and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions.